William J Fitzmaurice farms beef and sheep with his son James just outside Athleague, Co Roscommon, taking all progeny to slaughter and putting the focus on efficiency for any inputs used on farm, from fertiliser to meal.

Bulls are finished in an under-19-month system, with any heifers surplus to the herd's replacement requirements slaughtered in a 20-month system.

A Limousin stock bull covers cows, which are generally Shorthorn-Limousin-crosses, along with some Charloais breeding scattered through.

Replacements needed for both the flock and the suckler herd are homebred.

The pair outlined their enterprise's emphasis on efficiency at a Kepak farm walk on Thursday.

Moving away from bulls

The Fitzmaurices are planning a move away from finishing bulls at 1 -months and switching to a steer system in a bid to maximise carcase value.

The suckler herd is a mix of Shorthorn-Limousin-crosses, with some Charolais breeding.

Current factory pricing regimes mean that the 19-month bulls miss out on in-spec bonuses, even though the Limousin breeding is delivering good grades.

William says that bulls would typically kill out at 420kg deadweight and the 20-month heifers around 340kg.

“What is holding us up at the minute is housing. We will need more shed space for the bullocks, but in terms of cows, we won’t have to go down in numbers. The bullocks will be just a couple of extra months,” William J said.

Bales v pit

A 25ac to 30ac cut of baled silage is targeted for “as early as possible in May”, with all additional cuts being taken from surplus in paddocks over the year.

The herd's terminal Limousin stock bull.

“We would generally get anywhere from three to seven bales/ac, but five would be ideal.”

Pit would have been made in the past, but the heavy land type and flexibility of the paddock-based system has pushed the Fitzmaurices towards bales.

Multi-species swards were trialled for the first time on the farm last year, with favourable results reported so far.

Fertiliser goes out “little and often” and half the farm is soil tested each year. These results are acted on with slurry and compounds to rectify any low index soils. The farm is grass measured once a week too in the Fitzmaurices’ bid to push efficiency.

Outdoor lambing

Lambing gets under way outdoors around 20 February, with raddle marks used to split ewes into groups nearing lambing to let into well-sheltered fields with good grass reserves. A few ewes, such as triplets, may be lambed indoors.

“What we’re looking for is for the ewe to lamb down on a good pad of grass. You need the ewe lambing on to a good cover of grass, it keeps the lamb up off the ground and the ewe will be content eating around the lamb for the first few days.

The 4ac to 5ac paddocks are subdivided to increase grass utilisation.

After the ewes leave the lambing fields, calved cows are brought in to clean out. The cows are used to clean out paddocks across the entire year and William sees this as essential to controlling costs and maximising grass utilisation.

“The cow gets a bad name, but you can feed her cheap enough if you give her the rougher grass. There’s feeding in headlands of silage fields, cleaning up after the bulls or heifers get the best grass too,” he says.

The flock would have fed meal out to ewes after lambing in previous years, but they moved away from this in recent years.

“It stops the mismothering when you don’t need to go into the field with a snacker and have ewes come running over,” William J said.

Meal is fed from about six weeks out from lambing, with a snacker for doubles and about three weeks out for singles.