Farming on the outskirts of Prosperous in Co Kildare, Michelle Curley runs a mixed suckler and dairy calf-to-beef farm alongside her mother, Patricia.

The family has been slowly reducing suckler cow numbers over the last two years and moving to more of a dairy calf-to-beef operation.

It was a decision that wasn’t taken lightly and Michelle had her reservations about working with dairy-beef stock but it’s a case of so far, so good with the majority of the 2021-born stock on target for being slaughtered off grass this autumn.

“I didn’t know if I’d like having dairy-beef cattle on the farm. We are so used to suckler-bred stock, I thought it would be hard to look at these cattle every day. But I have been really surprised with them. They are nice animals and definitely having an even batch of Angus makes them look very well at grass. The biggest benefit of them is how docile they are and are so easy to do anything with.”

Last year, the family reared nine Angus heifers and nine Angus bulls, while five Hereford calves were purchased in the mart later in spring. At the moment, the heifers are averaging around the 440kg mark while the bullocks are 475kg, on average.

The majority of the heifers, as well as a pick of the bullocks, should be suitable to be drafted off grass

The plan is to weigh them all again at the end of July and, from there, come up with a plan for finishing. Not all the stock will be up to weight to slaughter off grass but there is housing capacity on the farm to winter whatever needs to go back in to be finished out of the shed.

The majority of the heifers, as well as a pick of the bullocks, should be suitable to be drafted off grass.

Once weighed, the most forward stock will start to get meal at grass for a short period to help improve the level of finish.

Feeding concentrate also helps improve killout percentage by 1% to 1.5%, which on the average carcase weight expected could be worth as much as €22/head.

Lifetime concentrate input, (rearing, first-grazing season, winter and finishing phase) to the heifers will be less than 400kg, while the bullocks will have consumed around 100kg/head more.

Current management

Currently, it’s a case of keeping good-quality grass under their heads at all times to ensure liveweight gains are maximised. They also received a worm dose in the last fortnight based on the results of a faecal egg test.

Michelle plans to separate the bullocks and heifers for the rest of the grazing season to avoid having bullocks spending the day, following heifers that are bulling, which would have a negative effect on thrive.

Michelle Curley.

It is a balancing act, however, and up to now they have been grazing together so that the grazing pressure of the group is sufficient enough to get into paddocks and get them grazed out in a few days before moving to fresh grass.

Grass supply

Grass growth had been ticking along nicely but Michelle didn’t mind seeing a wet weekend as it has helped to freshen things up considerably.

The boggier ground at the bottom of the farm is really well suited to dry summers as it can continue to pump out grass but the rest of the farm was glad of the moisture.

“I have been doing some topping in the last two weeks as there were seed heads emerging in some of the swards across the farm. It was also a good opportunity to cut the rushes on some of the bog ground. Cattle have been content at grass though and we were able to keep them moving to fresh grass every few days so there was no issue with grass supply.”

Silage

First-cut silage was harvested on 25 May with 30 acres cut yielding just over 270 bales of what should be very high-quality winter feed.

There was also a significant carryover of silage from last winter so the family are well on the way to securing enough feed.

Twenty-five acres have been closed for second cut to meet the shortfall and give them a buffer of silage in the yard heading into winter.

Multispecies sward

Three and a half acres of ground that were cut for silage was oversown directly after cutting with an eight-way mix of a multispecies ley which included:

  • 25% Triwarwic (perennial ryegrass).
  • 15% Abergreen (perennial ryegrass).
  • 15% Elysium (perennial ryegrass).
  • 12.5% Pastor (red clover).
  • 8.3% Tonic (plantain).
  • 6.25% Galway (white clover).
  • 6.25% Coolfin (white clover).
  • 5.9% Choice (chicory).
  • “We always reseed a few acres every year and keep soil sampling up to date. Over the last few years, we have been using a multispecies mix which is performing well on the farm so far. What was done after silage has just had its first light grazing.

    “I will graze at low covers for the few rotations so that the new seeds get a chance to establish themselves.”

    2022 calves

    This year saw 28 calves purchased in early April at between two and three weeks old. Rearing went well this year with no major health issues to report.

    Calves are now at grass full-time and continue to receive 1kg/day of a 16% protein calf nut.

    “Calf rearing is a busy time but it went well and it’s a job that my sons, Seanpatrick and Charlie, love to help out with making sure everything is fed and bedded each day. I hope to increase the number of calves reared again next year.

    “Costs have risen significantly but it’s about managing them as best as possible. Last winter, we had 78% DMD silage so only needed to feed 0.5kg/day concentrate over winter.

    I am hoping the quality of silage made this year will be something similar and we will be able to keep the meal bill as low as possible.”