Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge participants John and James Flaherty are farming 41ha of predominantly heavy ground outside Castleisland in Kerry. Seventeen hectares are owned and 24ha are leased.
The plan, as part of the programme, is to move from 35 suckler cows to 50 suckler cows, as well as changing from a weanling system to a beef finishing system, slaughtering bulls under 16 months and heifers at 20 to 22 months.
A dairy calf-to-beef system is also being introduced and 30 dairy Hereford-cross calves were purchased in spring 2017.
This plan, similar to the plans of the other BETTER farm beef challenge participants, is geared towards increasing output leading to increased gross margin/hectare.
In 2016, the Flahertys had a gross margin of less than €400/ha. The target is to more than treble this figure to above €1,200/ha by the end of the programme.
The Flahertys have always placed a strong emphasis on breeding high-quality suckler stock.
The cow type on the farm is predominantly Parthenaise-cross, with Charolais, Limousin, Salers and Simmental strains running through.
This is the first year the Flahertys have operated 100% AI for the first time.
The clever system operated by the Flahertys is extremely impressive
After seven weeks of breeding, an 88% conception rate was achieved, with 49 out of 56 cows in calf.
While 100% AI may sound daunting to some, the clever system operated by the Flahertys is extremely impressive and allows for easy AI management.
While visiting the farm last week, James explained to me: “The farm is positioned in a long narrow block and we have a roadway up the middle of it and the yard is in the centre.
"Cows graze alternate sides of the yard every second day. Therefore, they have to walk through the yard each day as they go to fresh grass and I can easily pull out the cows I need to AI.”
James also said the MooCall heat detection system was an excellent tool for picking up cows in heat.
Grass growth on the farm didn’t suffer just as much as other parts of the country this year.
Up to the first week of October 2017, 8t DM/ha was grown.
For the corresponding week in 2018, this figure is down just 0.9t DM/ha to 7.1t DM/ha. The target is to hit 10t DM/ha annually.
One tool James considers key to this is grass measuring: “I was using an ordinary plate meter last year. However, this year I bought a Grasshopper.
"I can use it to map paddocks as well as taking grass measurements, which it then automatically uploads to the PastureBase system. It has definitely been worth the investment so far.”
The spring of 2018 was an extremely difficult one for the Flahertys.
With poor weather forcing the prolonged housing of stock, including young calves, an outbreak of pneumonia hit hard, with 14 calves and two cows falling victim.
With an estimated cost loss of €13,200 on stock and €4,000 on extra veterinary fees, the Flahertys quickly set about work on a vaccination plan, creating extra housing capacity and improving ventilation.
To find out how this was done, see this week’s Irish Farmers Journal and watch the video above.