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Martin Connolly farm updates

September 2023

Martin Connolly farms part-time just outside the village of Castleplunket in Co. Roscommon where he operates a dairy calf-to-bull beef system. The farm consists of 60 Ha of grassland in total, which is divided in four main blocks within a 3-mile radius of the farm yard. The land itself can be described as a ‘heavy-type’ soil, which would be typical of the area. Approximately 170 Holstein-Friesian male calves are purchased at 3 weeks of age and are reared annually on the farm, all of which are slaughtered as bulls at approximately 21 months of age. Carcass weight of bulls slaughtered to date this year is on average 332kg which is similar to the 334kg carcass for the same period last year.

Recent years a major focus for the farm was to improve animal performance without increasing the level of concentrate input. Given the heavy nature of the land long grazing seasons can be difficult to achieve on the farm therefore when stock are at grass it is important that performance is maximised. This year grazing conditions proved difficult with turnout of the majority of stock been delays until April until conditions allowed. Once stock were turned out they remained out until mid August when 61 of the heaviest bulls were housed for finishing. They weighed just over 470kg and were slightly behind last year when 25 of the heaviest averaged over 490kg in late July. Once housed bulls are offered 3kg of a 14% crude protein nut which gradually increases to 7kg as well as top quality silage ad-lib.

Silage quality

Martin place a strong emphasis on making top quality silage and generally he is doing an excellent job in terms of silage quality. Last year first cut silage on the farm was harvested in mid-May and resulted in a crop with a DMD of 75 with this year's first cut completed a week earlier and achieving a similar result of 76%DMD. Making this high quality silage will reduce concentrate input with the feeding plan on the farm this winter is to provide calves and finishing with this high-quality, first-cut baled silage. Alongside this quality silage, weanlings will receive concentrates at a rate of 1kg/head/day of a 16% protein ration to ensure that the target ADG of 0.6kg is reached over the housing period while finishing stock will receive a maximum of 7kg/head/day of a 14% maize based ration.

Red Clover

With inputs, especially feed and fertiliser, costs increasing drastically last year Martin explored various cost-saving options that would not only cut costs but also maintain high levels of animal performance. Like many farms on the DairyBeef 500 programme Martin decided to incorporate 10 acres of red clover due to its enhanced ability over grass-only swards to maintain high levels of herbage production and animal performance from significantly lower levels of chemical nitrogen fertilizer. In early June 2022 the decision was made to reseed 10 acres of grass to a red clover sward last year the red clover sward has performed exceptionally well delivering two high-‘quality’ cuts of silage. The first-cut was harvested on 8 August and yielded 4.8 bales per acre.  Subsequently, 2000 gallons of cattle slurry per acre was applied for the second-cut, which was harvested on 25 September and yielded just over 4.5 bales per acre. This year the first cut was taken in early May and yielded close to 9 bales per acre, post cutting 2500 gallons of cattle slurry was applied per acre for second cut but the red clover percentage in the sward started to reduce dramatically. Martin puts its reduction in persistence down to soil compaction with the field which was used been a long narrow strip and high machinery passage has created extra compaction and this in turn has negatively affected the red clover plant. This experience has not turned Martin off of red clover as this year a further 12 acres have been established in a more suitable location with all lessons learned from the previous crop taken on board to ensure the persistency of this crop is maintained for as long as possible.

Faecal sampling

In terms of animal husbandry, regular faecal sampling took place throughout the summer to assist in the dosing strategy, in late August, coughing starting to develop so all animals were treated with an Ivermectin to protect again lungworm and this worked well. Finishing bulls will be administered a fluke and worm treatment to wipe out any burden of either.