BETTER farm: land utilisation crucial in Leitrim
The good weather has brought about the opportunity for some drainage work on the farm of Leitrim BETTER farm participant Philip Keville.

Philip Keville farms alongside his father Joe on 16ha in Aughamore, Co Leitrim. The land is reasonably good throughout but there are patches of heavy soils. For a number of years the farm has been using a calf-to-weanling system but in the last year, conversion to a finishing system has taken place.

Philip believes this system better suits his farm as he is heavily pushing towards maternal traits in his breeding selection and he believes the male offspring are not suited to the weanling market. At the beginning of the programme, the farm was mainly autumn calving and part of the farm plan was to convert to a fully spring-calving herd. They have successfully done that as all his cows are due to calve next spring.

Bull finishing

This was the first year bulls were fed to slaughter on the farm. The bulls averaged 380kg carcase weight and were aged between 13 and 15 months. The bulls were killed in one group last year and this was the reason for the vast spread in the ages. They were weaned last October, fed on grass and 3kg of grower ration until mid-November and then housed. At the time of housing, they were fed 6kg of grower ration and good-quality silage until they reached 12 months of age.

A finisher ration was then introduced and fed along with quality silage. After a couple of weeks of being introduced to the finisher ration, they were fed ad-lib meal and straw up until the time of slaughter. Philip was happy with how his first year at finishing went, but believes he can do better. This year’s calving spread is a lot more compact and he believes he will be able to carry his bulls up until 16 months. He also plans to creep feed his calves six weeks prior to weaning to make the process less stressful and to have less weight loss over that period.


Philip uses 100% AI and selects for maternal traits in the hope of breeding quality replacement heifers. To make the calving spread more compact, a nine-day synchronisation programme is carried out on all breeding animals. On day one, the progesterone device (PRID) is put in along with 2ml of gonadorelin (Ovarelin). On day six, 5ml of prostaglandin (Estrumate) is given. On day seven, the PRID is removed. On day eight, the second 2ml of prostaglandin is given. On day nine, the cow is artificially inseminated.

So far, this programme has worked well and there was a conception rate of 73% at first service. All breeding animals have now been scanned and all are in calf bar one. The remaining heifer is due to be artificially inseminated this Saturday. Any cows that did repeat showed a natural heat nine days after insemination. AI bulls being used on the farm include Potterleagh Mark (CH4160), Islavale Cracker (ISL), Curaheen Gunshot (SI4147), Elderberry Galahad (EBY) and Ewdenvale Ivor (LM2014).

Land drainage

Philip is in the process of carrying out some drainage work on some of his more marginal land. This will help utilise ground and maximise grass. One of the challenges set out at the beginning of the programme was to increase his output by 2t DM/ha. Drains have been installed 10 yards apart running at an angle with the gradient falling towards the main drain. The drain depths are roughly 600mm to 800mm depending on when the permeable layer is hit. A line of 3in drainage stone is filled in at the bottom of the drain and 3in drainage pipe is placed on top of that. The drain is then back-filled to the top. Total cost of the drainage works out at €5.50/metre. Philip believes this will be money well spent if he can better utilise his land.

Once the drainage work has been completed, the ground will be sprayed off, power-harrowed, reseeded and fenced to suit a paddock system.


The first cut was taken in on 30 May. A yield of 12 bales to the acre was taken from eight acres. All silage ground received 2,500 gallons of slurry and two-and-a-half bags of 18-6-12 along with one-and-a-half bags of CAN per acre on 16 April. For second cut the ground will get a light coating of slurry and 100 units of CAN.

There was also some hay cut on 6 June. It got four days’ wilt with no rain. The hay will be used to feed the bulls when they go on ad-lib meal next year.


Grass growth rate in the last week was 77kg DM/ha and farm cover is at 980kg DM/ha. Grass growth rate has remained steady over the last few weeks and farm covers have got a little strong. Philip has already taken out paddocks as surplus bales and will take out more in the coming weeks. Philip intends to feed these surplus bales to the bulls at the time of housing as the dry matter digestibility will be quite high in them.

Adviser comment

John Greaney

The root of all evil on suckler farms is often a prolonged calving spread. Increased production costs, higher demand on labour and not having a uniform bunch of stock are all consequences of not having a tight calving spread. Philip has faced all these issues since joining the programme. He has worked hard focusing on tightening his calving pattern. As Philip works full time off-farm, the system must be streamlined to reduce labour and all cows will calve down over an eight-week period. This in turn will complement his finishing system as he will have more uniform stock at housing, reducing production costs. He has a passion for breeding top-quality stock. Given the heavy weaning weights Philip was consistently achieving, finishing his own stock was something he always wanted to try. For now, though, all thoughts are on making as much top quality fodder for next winter as reserves are depleted.

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Fodder budget series: BETTER farms planning to stay on top this winter
Over the coming weeks, we will outline each BETTER Farm participant's fodder budget, as well as outlining the steps that will be taken to fill the gap in a deficit situation.

Given the year that has just passed, the thoughts of completing a fodder budget on some farms will sound like a terrifying prospect. With storms and snowfall causing havoc for fodder supplies in the spring, farmers had planned to conserve as much feed as possible this summer. However, the recent drought had other ideas and in early parts of the country, silage crops were affected.

Bumper grass year

For the majority of the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge participants, the story was no different.

For the Grieves in Donegal, the dry conditions have led to a bumper grass growing year.

Second-cut silage was in the pit six weeks early and a third cut is already closed off – this is unheard of in other years.

Many are commenting on how grass has gotten greener and how good growth is starting to become noticeable

And while drought affected all other farms to some extent, participants in Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Leitrim, Monaghan, Cavan and Meath are now noticing excellent grass growth in recent days and weeks.

Growth struggling in the south

Further south, the problem is much greater, as growth really struggles to kick in.

In the last number of days, many are commenting on how grass has gotten greener and how good growth is starting to become noticeable.

However, it is getting late in the year and with one eye on building covers for the autumn and the other on closing ground for the spring, there is little room left for extra fodder conservation in these parts.

BETTER Farm: Fodder Update from Irish Farmers Journal on Vimeo.

Completing a fodder budget

It is with this in mind that we must look at completing a fodder budget. As mentioned, the fear of what you might learn is prohibiting many farmers from completing this task.

But, to counteract that theory, it is far better to identify and begin solving a problem now than to hit the back wall of the silage pit next December and have no plan B.

Over the last month, all BETTER farm participants have been completing and regularly updating fodder budgets for their farms with the help of their Teagasc BETTER farm advisers and their local Teagasc B&T advisers.

Few are in surplus situations. However, the vast majority are facing some level of a deficit that simply won’t be made up between now and housing.

It must also be noted that all budgets have included a four-week buffer to cater for the worst-case scenario.

Over the coming weeks, both in print and online, we will outline each participant's fodder budget, as well as outlining the steps that will be taken to fill the gap in a deficit situation.

Some farms will make bales before winter, some will purchase extra meal or sow forage crops, while a small few will be forced to sell stock.

Complete your own

Before looking at the BETTER participants’ budgets, why not complete a fodder budget of your own and give yourself the opportunity to compare and take ideas from the BETTER farm approaches.

To complete a fodder budget for your farm, use the Irish Farmers Journal fodder calculator here

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BETTER farm: Herefords and drought recovery in Kildare
Ricky Milligan is glad to see the back of the drought on his farm in Kildare, as he begins finishing his steers and heifers.

Ricky Milligan farms 64ha of free-draining land in Robertstown, Co Kildare. He has a herd of 40 suckler cows, taking all progeny to steer and heifer beef. Forty dairy calves were also purchased in the spring and reared on the farm. These too are finished as steer and heifer beef and they fit perfectly into the same grazing group as Ricky’s own stock in their second year at grass. He also grows some tillage on the farm.

Unique system

Ricky’s system is unique as Hereford is the main breed used within the suckler herd. This traditional beef breed has, in recent decades, declined in popularity, with suckler farms turning to continental breeds instead.

A few years ago, however, Ricky decided that Herefords were the best breed for his system: “Because I am a little bit tight on housing, I want a breed that I don’t have to put in for finishing for a second winter. Because the Herefords are an early-maturing breed, I can finish the majority of them off grass.”

Ricky also avails of a slaughter price bonus through the Irish Hereford Prime bonus scheme, where price bonuses of €0.10 to €0.25 can be secured, based on the time of the year and the specifications of the cattle.

Drought action

Drought, just like on the majority of farms across the country, severely impacted grass growth on Ricky’s farm. As a result, action had to be taken. Steers and heifers were used to graze second cut silage ground. This had a two-fold benefit because it maintained the performance of his finishing cattle and it also cleaned-off the silage ground which was reducing.

According to Ricky, “the silage ground is as strong again now, as it was almost one month ago”.

Concentrates were also introduced. Steers and heifers were split, with steers on 4kg of nuts per day and heifers on 3kg. Over the coming months, small groups will be drafted from each group as they come fit for slaughter. Due to the lack of fodder conserved, all steers and heifers must be slaughtered before housing. Ricky had originally planned for 20 of the lightest animals to be housed for finishing before Christmas.

Suckler calves were also introduced to concentrates to maintain performance. This also allowed Ricky to restrict his cows and buffer feed them with poorer quality hay. When I visited the farm last week, spirits were much higher thankfully, as rainfall had triggered growth once again. Ricky admitted that the drought posed serious problems for him and he will be extremely glad to see the back of it.

All stock was weighed in mid-July. To see how his stock are performing this year, and to learn more about the use Herefords in Ricky’s system, see this week’s Irish Farmers Journal or view the article online on Thursday, here.

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