Ger McSweeney March/April Update 2023
Update on spring rotation plan
- Spring rotation plan set up for Ger’s farm
- He is on target to have grazed 30% of farm by 7th March
- Next target is to graze 60% by 1st April
Calving is progressing well & decisions on using sexed semen
- Calving is progressing well on the farm
- Ger plans to start breeding from 17th March
- Cows are being carefully picked for sexed semen straws
Using profit monitor results
- 2022 profit monitor completed
- Ration, fertiliser & contractor costs remain the highest expenses on the farm
- Ger plans to incorporate clover, install permanent fencing & water troughs and to use sexed semen this year to increase gross output, reduce costs and to save himself time
17 yearling heifers were turned out to grass on 1st February this year, a record on Gers farm. They started grazing paddocks with lower covers beside the farmyard, this allowed them to settle and not walk grass into the ground and it also allowed Ger to keep a close eye on them.
Ger is not new to letting cattle out early and he has the confidence to so this as he follows a spring rotation planner. The plan allows Ger to take advantage of good ground conditions this spring and gives the first grazed paddocks time to recover before the second rotation starts in April.
In total Ger has 23.59ha available to graze, his targets are to have 30% (7ha) grazed by 7th March, 60% grazed by 1st April (14.2ha) and have 100% grazed by 11th April. He is now heading into heavier covers and grass is starting to grow, the heifers alone won’t meet these targets so cows and calves are being turned out, but how many?
In Ger’s case he measured grass on the farm and knows that there is a cover of 793 kg DM/ha and that 80% of this should be utilised. His target until 7th March is to graze around 0.2ha per day.
- Multiplying 793 kg DM x 0.8 x 0.2ha = 127 kg DM/day to be eaten (0.6 of a silage bale).
- The heifers are approximately 380kg and will eat 2% of their body weight per day, or 7.6 kg DM.
- Dividing 127 kg DM by 7.6 kg DM means that 17 heifers can be turned out to grass.
As cattle progress through grass on the farm and the daily growth rates increase, more cattle in the form of calved cows and calves can be let out to meet the targets. If Ger is behind target, he can graze lower covers and if he is ahead of target he can house the cows and calves by night or reduce the numbers that are out.
He can easily monitor this on Pasturebase Ireland by entering graze dates of each paddock. However, it does not come without challenges and he regularly watches the weather so that he can plan ahead for housing cattle by night or moving them to more sheltered paddocks if bad weather is forecast.
28 cows are now calved on the farm. One heifer needed assistance as she did not loosen up enough to allow the calf to be born and the calf was dead on arrival. However a newly purchased calf is being fostered on to her. One other calf was dead at birth and is a suspected neospora abortion, but one twin calf was fostered on to her for rearing. Other than that, Ger is very happy with how the calving season is progressing and has the earliest born calves out at grass full time with the cows. 11 more cows are due to calve between now and 17th March.
Ger has been selecting AI bulls for breeding this spring. As he has an automated heat detection system in place on the farm he is keen to use some sexed semen for breeding replacement heifers. 13 potential cows have been selected for one serve to a sexed semen straw from SI4147. Ger chose this bull out of the options available as he is well balanced for maternal traits (+8.7kg daughter milk, -6.93 days calving interval) and carcass traits (+33.5kg carcass weight, +1.84 carcass conformation). The calving difficulty for beef cows is 7.2% at 99% reliability. However he is unsuitable for heifers at 14.7% beef heifer calving difficulty.
As SI4147 is unsuitable for heifers, Ger must carefully select the cows for breeding to the sexed semen straws. He has used the following criteria when choosing them;
- 5 star replacement cows
- Good maternal traits – good mothers, docile, milky, fertile
- Calved in the first half of the calving season this year
- Held in calf to the first serve in 2022
- Negative for neospora
- Have cycled twice before breeding
Furthermore, he will be able to monitor the ‘heat index’, or the quality of each breeding animal’s heat through the automated heat detection system on his farm. If the heat index is high, he knows that there will be better conception rates to the serve whereas if it is low he would be better to use a conventional straw instead. He will also be able to monitor the heat window which will show the best time for inseminating the cow.
Ger also has the added advantage that he is doing DIY AI so he is not dependant on an AI technician to call to him at specific times of the day. He will be following the recommended guidelines:
- Inseminating 16-20 hours after the onset of standing heat
- Thawing a maximum of 2 sexed semen straws at a time
- Thawing straws at 35 to 37oC for 45 seconds
- Loading straws into pre-warmed AI guns
- Completing inseminations within 5 minutes
Ger expects to have a higher replacement rate of 25% as he is continuing to deal with the neospora issue in his herd.
- 40 cows x 25% means that he will need 10 replacement heifers.
- If 13 cows were bred to sexed semen with an expected conception rate of 70%, Ger would expect to have 8-9 heifer calves born and 6 to 7 of these calving down as heifers in 2 years.
- Therefore another 6 heifers will be need to be born to ensure Ger has 10 heifers calving down in 2 years, meaning he will have to breed 12 more cows to conventional maternal straws.
Terminal bulls being used are LM5443, CH4160, CH4321, LM7799 and LM7713.
Maternal bulls to be used will be CWI and possibly JSS.
Ger’s priority for first calvers is to get live calves so ZEP and AA4640 will be used on them for ease of calving.
Ger completed his e-profit monitor for 2022 and has been analysing the results. The most important figure from a management perspective is the output per livestock unit, which was 420kg/LU. This is slightly back on 2021 when the figure was 443kg/LU, but a solid increase from 344kg/LU in 2020 and 383kg/LU in 2019. Every management practice on the farm affects the output per livestock unit; health, mortality, performance at grass and housing, genetics, cow & bull fertility and calving spread. Ger is well ahead of the target >350kg/LU in a suckling system. In a non-suckling system the target is 500 kg/LU.
Ger plans to increase his stocking rate from 1.73LU/ha. 2022 was the first year that he did not have to buy in silage on the farm which indicates that he is growing sufficient grass to support his 35 cow herd. He has sufficient slurry storage and housing space for 40 cows and this is his target. In many cases stocking rate can be limited by housing facilities, land type and labour. However Ger is confident that his farm can grow enough grass to support 40 cows, which has been helped by increasing soil fertility over the last number of years and reseeding that has been carried out on rented land.
The gross output figure is calculated from cattle sales minus cattle purchases and add/subtract any changes to the inventory. Ger had a gross output figure of €1913/ha which is the main ‘money in the pot’ to cover his variable and fixed costs. As with most drystock farms the 3 biggest expenses for the year were:
- Purchased concentrate (€404/ha)
- Fertiliser (€183/ha)
- Contractor (€170/ha)
In total, the total variable costs (€1085/ha) were 57% of the gross output figure. The target for this is less than 50%.
Based on these results, Ger has 3 main aims for the year;
- Start over sowing clover on the farm
12 paddocks have suitable soil fertility, i.e. pH over 6.2 and a minimum of index 3 for P and K. These will be walked to see if they are suitable for over sowing. Ideally, they will have a level of clover in the sward already, be slightly open to give the clover seed a chance to strike and will have a low weed burden. This will help to reduce his chemical nitrogen bill, will save time spreading fertiliser on the farm if it is successful, and can also help to increase cattle performance at grass.
2.Install permanent paddocks and water troughs
While there will be an initial financial outlay, Ger knows that using permanent fencing will help save him time in the future. Last year he used a lot of temporary wires for grazing but the calves damaged a lot of these and it created a lot of work for him and Karen. Paddocks can still be sub divided temporarily, but permanent fencing will be a big help. There may be an opportunity to apply for a TAMS3 grant for it this year too. Installing more permanent water troughs will give him greater flexibility with paddocks.
3.Use of sexed semen
As mentioned in the breeding section, Ger plans to use sexed semen for the first time this year. Strategically breeding replacements from his most maternal cows will help increase his genetic gain over time, and also allows him to use more terminal bulls on other cows to increase the kilograms of beef sold and thus the gross output figure from the farm.