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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Grass+: don’t neglect nitrogen
Scarcity of rainfall is still the main concern among southern measuring farms.

An average growth rate of 50kg DM/ha was recorded this week, 22kg DM/HA lower than last week’s figure.

There has been a 47% reduction in growth rates over the last two weeks. As the lengthy spell of dry weather has continued, many areas around the country are still greatly in need of rainfall.

Growth in the south and midlands appears to be worst affected as rainfall averages in both areas are at their lowest levels for May/June for the past five years.

Only 23.7mm of rainfall was recorded at the Mullingar meteorological station up until 18 June – that’s almost a quarter of the 10-year average rainfall for June at that station.

Grass growth on Tullamore Farm has dramatically reduced over the last seven days due to the lack of rainfall. A growth rate of 33kg DM/ha was recorded on Monday, almost 50% less than the growth rate recorded the week before.

Management tips

Avoid topping and baling paddocks until grass growth improves. These practices will lead to slow recovery growth on paddocks.

Paddocks that have been earmarked as surplus paddocks may now be needed for grazing; strip-grazing heavy covers may now be have to be an option.

Introduce meal to calves by using a creep system if grass quality and quantity is really low. Suckler calves will have performed well on the majority of farms, with the good grazing year up until now, and keeping up their performance over this slow growth period should now be the priority.

Over the last couple of weeks following the previous good growing conditions, nitrogen application might have been neglected. It is important to keep nitrogen topped up on paddocks to maintain quality in the grass sward.

Dwayne Stanley

Co Tipperary

System Suckler to steer finish

Soil type Variable

Farm cover (kg DM/ha) 489

Demand (kg DM/ha/day 24

Growth (kg DM/ha) 35

Seventy-five acres was cut for pit silage in the first week in June. Silage was mowed and left to wilt for 24 hours before it was picked up using a wagon. The same ground will be used for second-cut silage. Forty acres in total received three bags/ac of 20-2-12, and the other 34 acres got 3,000gals/ac of slurry and two bags/ac of CAN plus sulphur. Growth over the last few weeks has been good – 375 bales were taken from surplus paddocks. To replenish the extra nutrients taken off by the surplus bales, these paddocks received 1,500gals/ac of slurry.

This week, I had to take out more paddocks, and I believe I will have another 100/120 bales off this ground. To help streamline the work this year, I have started to blanket-spread fertiliser over the farm roughly once a month. For the last round of fertiliser on grazing ground I spread two bags/ac of 18-6-12, but this ground is starting to look hungry so I will spread 10-10-20 to give the soil the P & K it requires.

Robert Abbott

Co Longford

System Suckler to bull beef

Soil type variable

Farm cover (kg DM/ha) 1,024

Demand (kg DM/ha/day) 45

Growth (kg DM/ha/day) 84

Ground type here is variable so paddocks on heavier soil are really kicking on while other paddocks have slightly stalled. The reseed is in around five weeks now and I plan to spray it later in the week. Top 5 Extend, a mix from germinal, was the mix that I went for. I used it last year and I’m happy with the return so far this year. I’ll graze the reseed with lighter store cattle as opposed to letting cows and calves into it. Breeding is going well with only one or two cows not served as of yet. The new Charolais bull I purchased is doing the job and hopefully he’ll throw some nice calves.

Cows are going into covers of around 1,200kg DM/ha, so thankfully I haven’t had to top any paddocks out after them. Clean-outs are exceptional given the dry weather and I’m not having a problem with grass heading out. I’ve only two bulls left to be slaughtered. The returns from the bulls I killed last week were good and they had an average carcase weight of 400kg at 15 months.

Matthew Murphy

Newford Herd

System Suckler to steer finish

Soil type Mixed

Farm cover (kg DM/ha) 751

Demand (kg DM/ha/day) 54

Growth (kg DM/ha/day) 51

Newford Farm has 100 cows for breeding this year. To date, 90% of the herd was artificially inseminated within three weeks of the breeding season commencing on 23 April. All 100 cows have now been inseminated to date, Monday 18 June. The farm is on week eight of the breeding season, and there are two weeks of breeding remaining. There have been 22 repeats so far. This includes six cows that had three repeats. The two teaser bulls have played a major role on picking up all the cows as they cycle. Once-a-day AI is used. Cows are being inseminated at midday each day.

Twenty-three replacement heifer calves arrived on the contract-rearing farm on Thursday 7 June. One of the calves died last week due to sun stroke. The silage ground got 2,500 gallons of slurry on Monday and will get three bags of CAN next week. 18.6.12 is being spread on all paddocks to try and get the sward to thicken up after poaching in the spring and last back end.

Michael McDonald

Co Kilkenny

System Suckler to weanling

Soil type mostly heavy

Farm cover (kg DM/ha) 396

Demand (kg DM/ha/day) 27

Growth (kg DM/ha/day) 10

Grass growth has really slowed up the last couple of weeks with the dry weather. The majority of the farm is starting to burn up and a bit of moisture would be more than welcome to kick-start growth again. Thirty units of nitrogen were spread across the entire grazing block about two weeks ago. Low-index paddocks got a bag and a half of 18-6-12 and the remainder of the paddocks got a bag of CAN. I have my first cut done about five weeks and this year I took up a lot of ground for second cut as I aim to build silage stocks after last year’s long winter. All ground closed for second cut got over 80 units of nitrogen.

Cows will be due to start calving in about 10 days. They are currently being restricted on grass to keep them in good shape for calving. Cows are getting pre-calving mineral blocks. I sold the last of my autumn-born bull weanlings last week and overall I was fairly happy with how I got on with them.

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Grass+: growth dropping as land goes dry

Praying to the rain gods on Tullamore Farm
A scarcity of rainfall has greatly reduced grass growth on Tullamore Farm, Anthony Mulligan writes

Grass growth has dramatically reduced over the last seven days. A growth rate of 33kgDM/ha was recorded yesterday almost 50% less than the growth rate recorded last week. Lack of rainfall has been the reason for this. Only 23.7mm of rainfall was recorded at the Mullingar meteorological station up until 18 June, that’s almost a quarter of the 10-year average rainfall for June at that station. Some rainfall over the weekend will help grass growth and hopefully get back on track in the next week.

Growth rate curve on Tullamore Farm over the last two years.

All topping and bailing paddocks has ceased until growth rates improve. One group of cows have gone into a heavier cover than normal but with growth so low there is no other choice.

Dairy heifers were given a wormer dose along with a mineral bolus over the weekend. The heifers will also be weighed in the next week. Grass samples were taken two weeks ago and sent away for analysis and came back low in cobalt and copper. The farm has a history of low copper and some of the black heifers had brown coats pointing to a copper deficiency and cows previously blood sampled on the farm also came with a deficiency in copper.


Cows and calves are still grazing in two separated grazing groups. The two stock bulls have been released to mop up any cows not yet gone in-calf following seven weeks of AI. One group is running with the Angus bull and the other is with the Limousin bull. Seven cows that have not yet shown a heat were scanned last week, there was no major issues with them bar one that needed a PRID and the rest of them were given 2cc of prostaglandin.


Calves seem to be performing well on the farm, due to good grass growth and firm underfoot conditions. Calves will be weighed for the first time since going out to grass this week and they will be given their second worm dose.

The first batch of bulls will be drafted for slaughter this week; a liveweight will be taken for all bulls before they leave the yard.

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