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James Skehan March/April Update 2023

Farm finances

Farm finances

  • Reviewing 2022 profit monitor
  • Increase in output/LU on the farm
  • Plans for 2022 based on the results
Preparing for the breeding season

Preparing for the breeding season

  • Update on cows calved
  • Heat detection plans for heifers
  • Choosing a suitable replacement bull to match the heifers
Spring grazing & fertiliser

Spring grazing & fertiliser

  • Good progress being made on spring rotation plans
  • 18-6-12 + S to be spread on grazing ground
  • Planning for fertiliser applications on silage ground


James 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 330kg/LU. This is a good improvement from 2021 and 2022 when the figure was 318kg/LU. 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. The target for James’s farm is >350kg/LU in a suckling system. In a non-suckling system the target is 500 kg/LU.

The stocking rate on the farm is 1.68 LU/ha. The farm is growing enough grass to match this stocking rate, although improvements in soil fertility by spreading lime to increase the soil pH and spreading 18-6-12 to build soil indexes will increase this over time. However James is working full time off farm and is happy with the number of stock and workload on the farm. There is potential to increase the suckler herd to 30 cows so that he won’t have to buy in store cattle for grazing, but increasing stocking rate is not a priority for the farm. Any extra grass grown through improvements in soil fertility will act to reduce James’s chemical fertiliser bill instead of producing excess grass as silage on the farm.

The gross output figure is calculated from cattle sales minus cattle purchases and add/subtract any changes to the inventory. James had a gross output figure of €1181/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:

  1. Purchased concentrate (€260/ha)
  2. Fertiliser (€266/ha)
  3. Contractor (€298/ha)

In total, the total variable costs (€1142/ha) were 97% of the gross output figure. The target for this is less than 50%.

Based on these results, James has 3 main aims for the year;

1. Sow a PRG/red clover crop on the farm

The silage ground in Clonboy has adequate soil fertility (pH 6.7, index 3 for P, index 2 for K) to sow a crop of red clover. James spread FYM on the block last autumn to help raise the K indexes and will be prioritising this field for muriate of potash (50% K) this year to rise it to an index 3. James will sow this crop to help reduce his chemical fertiliser bill by applying no chemical nitrogen to the crop. It will also help to improve his ration bill by producing better quality silage for his young stock over the winter period.

2. Managing rumen fluke on the farm

Unfortunately James’s farm has a heavy burden of rumen fluke, which has affected weanlings and store cattle significantly over the last 2 years. In conjunction with his local vet, James will put a plan together for identifying high risk periods for rumen fluke and treating cattle accordingly to help prevent any weight loss.

3. Farm plan

This year James will be putting a farm plan together for his farm. This will help to plan out a system that works for him with his off farm job, that suits the housing facilities and grass growing potential on the farm, and that will generate a sustainable income into the future. His past experience, knowledge of the farm and data recorded from silage sample results, soil sample results, grass measurements on the farm and profit monitor information gives him reliable information to plan from.


13 cows are calved on the farm to date out of 23 cows. One cow that was scanned in calf has turned up empty and Jams suspects that another one may also not be in calf, so that leaves him with 8-9 cows left to calve from now until late April.

Breeding will start on 1st May and finish on 3rd July for approximately 9 weeks to help tighten the calving spread on the farm and to calve cows to match grass growth on the farm.

James will be breeding 4 heifers to AI this year, including 2 of his home bred ones (#518 and #522). He will record heats as he sees them over the coming weeks to ensure that the heifers are cycling, and to help predict the dates for insemination. Tail paint will be used as a heat detection aid. James wants to breed potential replacement heifers from these maiden heifers, but is conscious of calving difficulty. He has chosen the bull SA4604 (Knottown Roy) as he is €245 on the replacement index and has a daughter milk figure of 8.2kg, with a daughter calving interval of -6.15 days. Most importantly, the heifer calving difficulty is 5.3% at 98% reliability.


James began turning weanlings out to grass on 13th February. As the weather and ground conditions were good he gradually turned out more weanlings and then decided to move them across to the out farm in Kilcredan. There were 18 weanlings and 13 store cattle moved over but as James is carefully watching his spring rotation planner, he can see that they are grazing too much grass too fast to allow for grass recovery. As such he will move some of these back home. As the farm cover is low at 436 kg DM/ha and the growth rate has been 8 kg DM/ha/day since 4th February, James would be best off bringing the store cattle home. He can continue to monitor his progress on the spring rotation planner on PBI and move further cattle over if necessary.

James's spring rotation planner progress

James was achieving his grazing targets on the home farm in Ballynevin up until the snow came which halted plans to turn out any more cattle. Fortunately he has a good reserve of silage in the yard and housing cattle for a few days will slow down the first rotation for him. This is particularly important as the farm cover is very low at 157 kg DM/ha.

James's spring rotation planner progress Ballynevin

Both farms are heavy and cold by nature, with older grasses and low soil fertility so they are slow to grow in the spring. Around St. Patrick’s weekend, provided soil temperatures are above 6oC, James can apply 1.5 bags of 18-6-12+S per acre to help kick start the grass and provide it with essential phosphorus and potassium.

For silage ground, James will apply approximately 2,800 gallons of slurry per acre using the dribble bar. Slurry sample results from 2022 show that there are 9 units of nitrogen, 6.38 units of phosphorus and 30.91 units of potassium per 1,000 gallons; i.e. 25 units N, 17.9 units P and 86.5 units K per acre. A crop of silage requires 80 units N, 16 units P and 100 units K. James can meet the remainder of the crop’s demand by spreading 2 bags of 24-2.5-10+S per acre, or alternatively he can spread 1.9 bags of protected urea in the form of 29% N+14% K + 2-4% S.