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Eamon & Donnchadh McCarthy January/February Update 2024

New investment

New investment

  • Spring calving due to start
  • New investment on the farm for heat detection & health monitoring
  • TAMS grant available on the system
Grazing has started!

Grazing has started!

  • Opening farm cover of 885 kg DM/ha
  • Heifers are now at grass
  • Calved cows will be turned out to sheltered paddocks with calves
ePM results

ePM results

  • 2023 profit monitor completed
  • Gross output increased from 2022, but so did variable costs
  • Fixed costs also increased, but resulted in a positive net margin excluding payments


The spring herd are due to start calving from 12th February. 28 cows/heifers are due to calve, including 5 new purchased in calf heifers.

Eamon and Donnchadh have installed an automated heat detection and health monitoring system on their farm, called Sensehub. 60 collars, 1 base station and a mobile solar system were purchased for the herd. The mobile solar system was required additionally as there are a lot of trees around the farm that would interfere with the signal, so this way it can be transported to various paddocks with the herd. The collars were fitted on the breeding heifers and cows to start measuring their behaviours; tags are an alternative to the collars but have a lower battery life.

The system measures 10 behaviours including side lying, low activity, medium activity, high activity, eating (different when inside), rumination, walking, grazing, heavy breathing/panting and abnormal behaviour. It can then send alerts by text and through an app notification for health issues and heat activity.

Some of the information provided includes:

  • Heat data – when in heat, ideal time for insemination including sexed semen window, anoestrus cows, irregular heats
  • Health alerts – abortions, internal sickness
  • Transition information between phases e.g. pre and post calving
  • Nutrition irregularities
  • Heat stress
  • Pregnancy probability

Eamon and Donnchadh selected the system as there is no annual subscription fee and they feel that it will work well on the farm. Since last year automated heat and health monitoring systems are grant aided through the TAMS 3 scheme and as they are in a farm partnership and Donnchadh is a young trained farmer, they can avail of the 60% grant. This is payable on the lower amount of the actual cost or the reference cost. The TAMS 3 reference costs are:

  • Base station (including software): €2,833
  • Collar/tag/bolus: €112.25

As Eamon and Donnchadh are registered for VAT, they can also claim this back. The net cost per cow amounts to €124.32 when the 60% TAMS 3 grant and VAT reclaim are accounted for.

New mobile solar system for Sensehub

Figure 1: Mobile solar system for new heat detection & health monitoring system


The opening grass cover for the farm was completed on 22nd January. It showed a growth rate of 3kg DM/ha over the winter period and an average farm cover of 885 kg DM/ha. Eamon and Donnchadh have a high demand for grass in spring and are happy to have a good cover to start with.

The maiden spring 2023 heifers were turned out to grass on 3rd February and have started grazing the silage ground before it is closed up. The calved cows and their calves will go to grass full time 2-3 days after calving if weather permits. The most sheltered paddocks near to the yard are prioritised for them to start with. In the past, the cows and calves would have been sent to a number of different paddocks but this year Eamon has decided to keep them together as a group so that they can finish grazing paddocks quicker and avoid eating re-growths which is slowing the overall paddocks recovery. Grass tends to be tight on the farm coming up to the second rotation so he is hoping that this strategy will help.

Opening grass cover for farm

Figure 2: Opening cover on 22nd January 2024

Heifers at grass

Figure 3: Heifers are at grass since 3rd February


The 2023 profit monitor has been completed for the farm. Eamon used the cost control planner in 2023 to monitor the farm expenses and income on a monthly basis which he found very useful.

The first figure on the ‘cattle detailed report’ examined was the output per livestock unit which was 432.6 kg/LU. This was an increase since 2022 where the figure was 407 kg/LU, and well ahead of the target >350 kg/LU for a suckler system. This figure is affected by everything that affects weight gain in the herd - the cow fertility, bull fertility, mortality, genetics, nutrition at grass, winter performance, ration fed, animal health and calving spread. As most of these areas are within a farmer’s control, it is also an indication of stock management on the farm and is irrespective of beef price.

The adjusted stocking rate on the farm is 2.13 LU/ha or 162 kg organic N/ha which means that Eamon and Donnchadh are not in derogation. When the tillage ground is included, this diluted the whole farm stocking rate even further. This has remained the same as in 2022.

The gross output figure is calculated from cattle sales minus cattle purchases and add/subtract any changes to the inventory. Eamon and Donnchadh had a gross output figure of €2579/ha which is the main ‘money in the pot’ to cover variable and fixed costs. This increased by 17% from €2202/ha in 2022.

The 3 biggest expenses on drystock farms are purchased concentrate, fertiliser and contractor costs. The biggest costs for the year were:

  • Ration (purchased + home grown barley): €661/ha (increase of €59/ha since 2022)
  • Contractor: €330/ha (increase of €51/ha since 2022)
  • Fertiliser: €300/ha (increase of €81/ha since 2022)

In total, the total variable costs (€1642/ha) were 64% of the gross output figure, which is higher than the target of <50%.

Due to poorer silage quality that was made in 2022, extra ration had to be fed to cattle in winter 2022/2023. The silage DMD % improved significantly in 2023 and this has helped to reduce feeding rates of ration per head over winter 2023/2024. Extra bulls were also finished in 2023 which contributed to the increased in output/LU, but they also ate more ration. Extra ration was also fed to the bulls pre-weaning in autumn 2023.

The contractor bill increased but more silage was made in 2023 vs 2022 which Eamon and Donnchadh are very glad to have in stock with the longer winter. The fertiliser bill also increased as a result of this, but by improving soil fertility and with potential to include more clover in the swards there is scope to reduce this over the coming years.

The fixed costs increased in 2023 to €772/ha from €534/ha in 2022 due to slight increases in machinery running, repairs and maintenance and also a depreciation charge for the new slatted tank. Despite this, the cattle enterprise made €165/ha net margin which does not include any direct payments or subsidies.