Listen: getting that spring feeling at Kildare BETTER farm walk
Silage making, breeding, grassland weeds and calf-to-beef were just some of the topics covered at the second BETTER farm spring walk on Thursday.

On what was a very pleasant spring day in Kildare, a crowd of close to 100 people attended the second Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge spring event on Thursday.

The walk, which was hosted by suckler-to-steer and dairy-calf-to-beef farmer Ricky Milligan, covered a broad range of topics focusing on key management factors for this spring.

Disappearing before my eyes

The first stand on the day was presented by BETTER farm adviser Tommy Cox, who gave an in-depth breakdown of the farm’s profit targets for the next three years (Table 1). Given the free-draining nature of the soil on the farm, the drought of 2018 resulted in significantly higher-than-normal expenditure on fertiliser, fodder and concentrates.

Listen to "Ricky Milligan on his farm in Kildare" on Spreaker.

“I think the most stressful time of 2018 was when I looked out on to the silage ground that had been fertilised and I realised the grass was almost disappearing before my eyes,” Ricky reflected.

Other stands on the day featured technical advice in the areas of growing silage crops, optimising soil nutrition, managing grassland weeds and preparing for breeding.

Calf-to-beef

At the stand on dairy calf-to-beef systems, BETTER farm adviser John Greaney went through the key considerations for farmers when it comes to purchasing dairy calves this spring, particularly in relation to price.

A calf-rearing budget for Ricky Milligan’s farm in 2018 was also presented (Table 2). “The plan is to certainly have calves on the farm but so far this year I’ve held off on buying any because of price,” said Ricky.

For more, see next Thursday’s Irish Farmers Journal and listen to the podcast above.

Watch: focus on the basics paying off in Sligo
Glen McDermott’s enthusiasm and hard work is beginning to reap dividends on his Co Sligo suckler farm.

Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge participant Glen McDermott is farming 41ha of variable ground just outside Castlebaldwin, Co Sligo.

The land is split into two blocks in close proximity to each other. There is also a yard on each.

Last year, a further 16ha were also secured under a long-term lease.

The plan is to run an under-16-month bull-beef system and a heifer-beef system with surplus females that are not retained for breeding.

Last spring, 53 cows were bred. This has increased to 66 this breeding season and the ultimate goal is to run a herd of around 80 suckler cows.

Improvements

Since the beginning of the programme, Glen has firmly bought into two key areas of suckler farm improvement – grass and breeding.

On the grass front, soil fertility, spraying, reseeding and even reclaiming newly leased ground have been ongoing processes with very high success rates.

Ground is quickly reaching its full grass-growing potential and to compliment this, paddocks, a water system and roadways have been developed simultaneously.

An under-16-month bull-beef system and breeding replacement heifers for calving at 24 months requires top-quality suckler genetics.

Over the last number of years, the use of AI has been growing steadily.

A combination of maternal and terminal sires are used each season, with Simmental, Charolais and Limousin being the main breeds used.

To quickly build numbers, some maiden heifers were bought in at the start of the year and Glen ensured that these too were four- or five-star animals.

For more information, see this week’s Irish Farmers Journal in print or online or watch the video above.

The corner-stones of suckling
Glen McDermott is working hard and fast to improve grass and breeding on his farm. Matthew Halpin reports

Grass and breeding are two cornerstones of suckling and their contribution to overall suckler farm performance are enormous. For example, Teagasc estimates that increasing the amount of grass utilised on a drystock farm by 1t DM/ha in a year is worth as much as €105/ha. Likewise for breeding, Teagasc research into five key suckler-farm performance indicators, all driven by good breeding, showed the potential to generate an extra €300/cow net margin.

Glen McDermott, the Sligo BETTER farm beef challenge participant, is looking at both grass and breeding to unlock more potential from his farm. On 41ha (owned) plus a recently leased 16ha, he is operating a suckler to under 16-month bull and heifer beef system.

Grass

To maximise a farm’s potential, every acre of ground needs to be fully utilised. Since joining the programme, reclaiming and improving large parts of ground that were under-producing has been key. Soil fertility was the first port-of-call so lime (86t spread in 2017), slurry and compound fertilsers are all being utilised better. Some parts of the farm were dominated by rushes and this problem was corrected with MCPA and Fourfrontier sprays. However, without doubt, the most important element to improving under-performing swards was reseeding – the most significant of which took place last autumn.

Picture one: before.

Early in 2018, Glen put pen to paper on a 12-year lease for 40 acres across the road from his home block. At the time the land was in very marginal condition, the ground was rough, with rushes and old grasses dominating the majority of the sward. Since then, the transformation has been dramatic. In mid-summer work commenced on just over half of the block, with ditches and drains being cleaned. Once that was finished, the ground was sprayed off and the dead material was cut.

Picture two: after.

After that, it was reseeded. Glen did most of this himself giving it three runs of a disc harrow, which he purchased, sowing the grass seed, fertilising and rolling. A full paddock infrastructure was then installed in the back end of the year, complete with a water system and roadway serving all paddocks.

As things stand, the reclaimed ground has received an early application of urea and two applications of 18:6:12. The fourth rotation started late last week with the suckler cow AI group.

Breeding

As the saying goes: an ounce of breeding is worth a tonne of feeding. For Glen, improving the breeding within his suckler herd was a major stepping-stone to improving his farm’s overall performance. “Our plan is to slaughter all bulls under 16-months and also to breed most of our replacements from within the herd at two years of age. “You need good stock to do this,” Glen explained.

A SI2469 Simmental heifer calf.

Dabbling with AI for a number years, this year 100% of breeding will be via AI. A group of 39 cows and a group of 27 maiden heifers are being run with two vasectomised bulls fitted with chin-balls. Last year, Simmental sires Lisnacrann Fifty Cent (SI2469) and Curaheen Earp (SI2152); Limousin sires Elderberry Galahad (EBY) and Castleview Gringo (GWO) and Charolais sires Fiston (FSZ), Gedeon (GEZ) and Cavelands Levi (CH4252) were used. A similar mix of maternal and terminal sires will be used this year. Each cow will receive AI a maximum of three times and each heifer will only get two chances in a bid to keep the calving period tight and fertility high.

A FSZ Charolais bull calf.

The high number of replacement heifers is required to build numbers. With 66 for breeding this year, that’s 13 more than this time last year. “I think around 80 suckler cows is my target for this farm,” he added. Of the 27 maiden heifers, roughly half are home-bred and half were purchased this spring. “I only bought four- or five-star heifers,” he said. “I do believe the stars are identifying the animals with the best breeding potential,” added Glen. Heifers between 390kg and 450kg were purchased and prices ranged from €900 to €1,100 per head.

In pictures: autumn reseed up and running in Mayo
Matthew Halpin checked in with Tommy Holmes in Mayo last week where the first spring rotation on the autumn reseed was nearly complete.

Mayo Teagac/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm beef challenge participant Tommy Holmes is one of the top grass growers in the programme.

After growing over 13t DM/ha in 2017, he went one better in 2018 hitting just below 15t DM/ha for the year.

After joining the programme, infrastructure was the first thing that needed some perfecting. The home block was relatively well set up, but an 8ha out-block was not hitting its full potential. Extra fencing soon resulted in four fields becoming 11 paddocks here.

Furthermore, Tommy explained that measuring grass on a weekly basis allowed him to make grassland management decisions with confidence and helped him to fully utilise what he was growing.

Reseeding

Reseeding is now the final part of the puzzle for Tommy and it is an ongoing process on the farm. The plan is to reseed approximately 5% to 10% of the farm each year.

Last autumn, a seven-acre field on the 20ac out-block was reseeded. The ground was sprayed off, ploughed, disc harrowed and power-harrowed and sowed on 15 September.

The seed mix was fully perennial ryegrass consisting of 3.5kg Seagoe, 3.5kg Dunluce and 4.5kg Abermagic.

Sheep were taken in to graze the new reseed over the winter and to encourage tillering of the new grass.

In spring, the ground first received 2,500gal/acre of cattle slurry, which was followed 10 days later with 23units/acre of N in the form of urea.

The last application has been a dressing of 1.5bags/acre of 18:6:12.

This reseed, along with the remaining 13ac will graze 50 bulls for the summer; two groups of 25.

The first rotation of cattle grazing is almost finished. It would have been finished sooner had wet weather in March not forced re-housing for a time.

For more information, read the article in this week’s Irish Farmers Journal in print or online.