Farming on 16ha of predominantly good-quality land just outside the small village of Aughamore, Philip Keville is the Leitrim participant in the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm beef challenge.

The farm system is very simple, exactly what Philip wants considering he is working full-time off farm.

His suckler herd comprises of 20 continental cows calving from early January until mid-March.

Under-16-month bulls

Male progeny are slaughtered under 16 months of age at a target carcase weight of 380kg deadweight.

Previously, Philip would have operated a weanling system on the farm.

At present, there are 15 bulls in the shed for finishing.

This is a higher than expected number of males, coming as a result of a 2:1 split of males to females born last spring.

Target slaughter date is from the end of March until May, depending on age and fitness for slaughter.

The first bulls for slaughter are currently on ad-lib, while the remaining bulls are being built up to this.

All are receiving a high-energy 40% maize ration, plus a small allocation of high-quality baled silage.

Female progeny

Female progeny are either kept on-farm as replacements or sold live as potential breeding stock.

The replacement rate each year depends on the success of the calving and breeding season, as well as the age demographic of the herd.

This year, Philip plans to sell all seven of his 2018-born heifers.

He is at maximum capacity in terms of suckler cow numbers and the age profile is relatively low.

All seven heifers are out of high-replacement index AI sires and will be sold as breeding females in February.

Calving 2019

There are 21 cows due to calve down this spring.

When I visited Philip on Friday, three had already calved and a further four were on the point of calving.

The farm operates 100% AI, with a wide range of high maternal bulls being used from the Simmental, Limousin and Angus breeds.

A synchronisation programme is used to tighten the calving spread.

The pre-calving diet consists of silage, 0.5kg/head/day of soya bean meal and a daily allocation of pre-calver minerals.

No vaccines are given on the farm.

To learn more about the projected output of the farm, as well as the first class breeding strategy, see this week’s Irish Farmers Journal in print or online.