Watch: a good start on the Redstart in Laois
Out-wintering on Redstart has got off to the perfect start for Harry and Joe Lalor in Laois. James Dunne reports.

For Co Laois Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge participants Joe and Harry Lalor, their first time out-wintering cattle on Redstart is going well so far.

With a total of 13ac of Redstart sown, the father-and-son pair have 71 cattle out on the crop at present; 66 weanling heifers and five cull cows.

For feed-out, the fence is being moved two yards twice daily while a bale of silage is also being allocated once daily to ensure fibre is maintained in the diet.

Problems with heifers going under the strip-wire have been rectified by putting a bracket on the temporary fencing stakes and running a second poly-wire along the feed face.

While the crop was being sown, a 30ft strip of headland was left outside the cattle to make access the round feeder easier when delivering the bale of silage. This has worked very well keeping ground damage from heavy machinery to a minimum.

Sowing

The crop was sown by direct-drilling on 1 August after a crop of silage was harvested. The direct drilling method resulted in no disturbance of the sod by simply cutting a slot in the ground and then dropping the seed into that slot.

Harry explained his thinking behind using the direct-drilling method: “We burned off the grass after the silage was cut and sowed the Redstart by direct drilling. It works very well now having the bit of grass coming up with the crop because it keeps the soil structure in place.”

The field only got two bags of 22.7-2.5-5 fertiliser/ac during sowing as it was felt that nutrient levels in the soil would be good as a result of the 18:6:12 for the silage crop.

All cattle were bolused before going on to the crop to help eliminate any problems with copper or iodine deficiencies.

To manage the changeover from grass to brassicas, cattle were eased on to the Redstart for around five days, only getting five or six hours per day.

Once they were waiting to get back into it, they were kept there permanently.

Faster growing

The Lawlors also have another 14ac of rape, which was sown on stubble ground. This was sown late, around 10 September, as the barley crop was late getting harvested.

The decision was taken to sow rape as opposed to Redstart as it is a faster growing crop.

All going well, the rape should be at a suitable height for feeding out by the time the Redstart has been grazed.

The Lalors made use of the Fodder Production Incentive Scheme, which allocated €100/ha for sowing catch crops such as rape and Redstart after tillage crops. It is hoped the crops will last until the end of January and, after that, the cattle will go out to grass before first-cut silage fertiliser is applied.

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.

Reaching full grazing potential in Mayo
Matthew Halpin visited Tommy Holmes in Mayo where his 20-acre out block is reaching its full potential.

Grazing 50 bulls on 8ha (20 acres) is the sign of exceptional grassland management. It equates to a stocking rate of over 4LU/ha and a daily grass demand of 55-60kg DM/ha. For Tommy Holmes in Mayo, this is the target he has set himself since the beginning of the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge and a number of steps have been taken to make it happen.

Based just outside Ballina, Tommy is farming 18ha; a home block and two other out-blocks of land less than five miles away. One of these outblocks is the aforementioned 20ac. Most of the land is free-draining.

The home block accommodates the farm’s suckler herd and is where a lot of the winter forage is made. The suckler herd is comprised of 15 continental cows. Problems with calving pattern will be rectified through culling and purchasing in-calf replacements so the plan is to calve in a 10-week period beginning on 1 August.

One-hundred bulls

The last time Tommy was featured on this page, it was highlighted that the suckler cows are not the main show in town here – the bull finishing system is. Slaughtering a mixture of under-16-month and 20-month bulls, the plan is to put over 100 bulls through the farm each year. Both winter finishing and grass-based systems are employed to spread the selling date of stock and to cut costs.

What is less common is the grass-based bull finishing system that Tommy has in place

Roughly speaking, half of Tommy’s purchases would be made in the autumn, and the other half in spring. The bulls purchased in the autumn would usually get a period at grass (depending on weather conditions and date of purchase) before being housed, put on a store diet until the turn of the year and then put on a finishing diet for 100 to 120 days. This is quite a common system for many finishers, the down side being it is typically very high cost.

What is less common is the grass-based bull finishing system that Tommy has in place. As soon as grass starts to grow in the spring, Tommy is straight out to the mart to buy stock to graze it. As a general rule, he is looking for 380-400kg bulls for the grass.

The plan with these bulls is to get cheap weight gain via grass for the spring and summer months. Then as growth begins to slow and grass quality decreases in late summer, bulls are drafted off the grass and into the shed for a 120-day finishing period.

Power of grass

The thoughts of grazing bulls at grass is enough to turn some people off, let alone the thoughts of grazing 50 on 20 acres. For Tommy, this should be very achievable this summer on his out-block, but it didn’t happen by accident.

The power of grass is something that he has really bought into since 2016 and it is something that has led to him becoming one of the top grass-growers in the programme. In 2017, Tommy grew a massive 13.1t DM/ha. In 2018, he grew just over 14t DM/ha which is even more impressive given the weather conditions.

Improvements to infrastructure have also featured heavily, particularly on the bull block. Doing all the fencing himself, the four-field, 20ac out-block is now split into 10 paddocks (see Figure 1). A high-powered, solar electric fence is important to keep bulls under control.

As a result, the stocking potential of the block has been increasing each year

All paddocks are served by water troughs, which are positioned as to allow sub-division of each paddock.

Reseeding has been the final piece of the jigsaw on the bulls’ block and the plan is to reseed a portion of the ground each year. Last year, 7 acres (paddock 1 and 2) were reseeded with a conventional plough, till and seed method.

As a result, the stocking potential of the block has been increasing each year. In 2017, fewer than 40 bulls ran on the block, last year 41 were grazed and this year 50 is the target – two groups of 25.

So far this year, the block has received 2,500gal/acre of slurry with a trailing shoe, a half bag/acre of urea and a bag and a half/acre of 18:6:12. It was not planned to take out surplus grass here because of its distance from the yard. However, after walking the 20ac last week, one to two acres may need to be cut to maintain grass quality.

For Tommy, the key to managing bulls at grass is to keep fresh grass in front of them. Splitting the 50 bulls into two groups leaves it much more manageable too. To encourage bulls to settle at first, turning them out on an empty stomach is the best tip.

Adviser comment

John Greaney

What Tommy is trying to do is challenging. Daily management is vital to keep bulls content at grass. If bulls get unsettled and travel, grass quality won’t be up to scratch. The farm output is impressive at 1,238kg/ha for 2018. Variable costs are always going to be high with the level of concentrates being fed where a bull system is in place. However, there is scope for improvement and this farm should hit over €1,300/ha gross margin if beef price remains at €3.80/kg . Continually taking out paddocks and with a constant buffer of feed in the yard, Tommy can have confidence in carrying this high stocking rate. Switching completely to an under 16-month bull system would seem a wise move as factories prefer in-spec cattle.

Watch: seeing the benefits of 100% AI
After going 100% AI last year, Matthew Halpin caught up with Garreth McCormack to see how his calves are performing and his plans for the coming breeding season.

Garreth McCormack farms just under 35ha on the outskirts of Bailieborough in Co Cavan. He is also the county’s representative in the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm beef challenge.

Because Garreth works full-time off farm, the system is kept as straightforward as possible. The target number of suckler cows on the farm is 50, all calving in the spring. The breeding is all continental with Salers being the dominant breed.

The farm operates an under 16-month bull beef system. The 2018 spring-born bulls will be drafted for slaughter over the next month as live weights climb over the 700kg mark.

Heifers are either kept within the herd as replacements or sold live if deemed surplus to requirements.

AI

In 2018, Garreth made the decision to go 100% AI. Considering he holds down a full-time job, heat detecting, bringing in cows and performing DIY AI is impressive. What is all the more impressive is the success he had with 100% AI in the first year – a 98% in-calf rate after 12 weeks of breeding.

Last week, I visited Gareth where calving for 2019 had just finished up. Without doubt, the quality of calves on the ground is extremely high.

A wide range of sires were used encapsulating an extensive range of breeds. Simmental bulls included SI4383 and APZ; Limousin bulls were EBY and CWI; Salers sires were SA4059, SA2189, BHU and ZLA and Charolais bulls were LKK and CSQ.

2019 breeding

Breeding for 2019 has resumed once again and, unsurprisingly, AI is the only method that will be used again. From 50 cows last year, 46 will be bred this season with the other four for culling. After just 10 days, 30 cows have been submitted for AI.

Heat detection in this group of cows is being aided by Moocall Heat. The system proved hugely successful on the farm last year and Garreth said it was a no-brainer to avail of the product again this time around.

Despite the fact that the technology sends a text to the user’s phone when a cow is in heat, Garreth explained that frequent visual monitoring is important too to achieve very high breeding results.

The teaser bull fitted with the Moocall heat bull collar. The cow has a Moocall heat tag.

Out of 18 yearling heifers, Garreth plans to breed 13. So far, these are being heat detected visually and subsequently receive AI. About one-third have been submitted for insemination so far. With the remaining heifers, Garreth is considering implementing a synchronisation programme followed by fixed-time AI.

Grass

After a stop-start spring in terms of grazing, grass growth on the farm has really jumped ahead and surpluses are beginning to appear. In this week’s paper, we take a look at how measuring is making a world of difference to grassland management.

Read the article in print or online this Thursday.