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Kay O'Sullivan January/February Update 2023

TB outbreak

TB outbreak

  • TB reactor in herd test
  • 2 clear tests needed
  • New TB changes for 2023
Spring grazing

Spring grazing

  • Low growth rates over winter
  • Spring grazing has started
  • Planning paddocks for grazing
Analysing the 2022 profit monitor

Analysing the 2022 profit monitor

  • 2022 profit monitor completed
  • Analysing the results and costs
  • Targets for the farm for 2023

Animal Health

The annual TB test was carried out on the farm and unfortunately one reactor was identified in the herd, meaning it is now locked up. This is quite disappointing as the herd has been free from TB for over 21 years and there now appears to be an outbreak in the area. The reactor cow was just under 11 years of age and Kay isolated her from the herd immediately. She was valued on farm and went to the factory on 22nd February.

The herd will be tested again at least 60 days after the initial reactor was removed. A second test will then take place at least 120 days after the reactor left the farm. As Kay is in a suckler to finishing system, she will not be under pressure retaining extra stock on the farm but it is a serious concern for the future of the breeding herd, depending on how serious the outbreak is.

New rules for TB control have come into effect since 1st February 2023. Initially, the requirements are that:

  • Cows of all ages, and males over the age of 36 months that are moving farm to farm or through a mart must be TB tested in the last six months and
  • They must also be moving from a herd that has been tested in the last six months.
  • If they do not fulfil both these requirements, they must then be tested, either within the 30 days prior to movement or within 30 days after movement into the new herd.

Animals that require a test in the 30 days after movement will be restricted immediately to the herd into which they have moved. This herd has 30 days to carry out a test on these animals. If after 30 days, the animals have not been tested, the herd that received them will be restricted. Sale of calves under six weeks of age and the purchase in of animals will be permitted. If after another 60 days, the animals have still not been tested, the whole herd will be scheduled for a TB test. If the moved in animal at any point is slaughtered, the restriction will be lifted, except where the herd has been listed for a full test. This allows the opportunity for cull cows to be purchased, fed and slaughtered without incurring the cost of testing (Source: DAFM).

Further information on Bovine TB can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/collection/5b92a-bovine-tb/


Kay measured grass on the farm on 24th January. It showed a farm cover of 551 kg DM/ha, with an over winter growth rate of 1 kg DM/ha/day. The demand for grass on kay’s farm increases rapidly with ewes lambing in early spring, and then the suckler cows start calving from late March/early April.

However this is usually offset by the lower stocking rate on the farm, which slows the rotation length and gives paddocks longer to recover. This is particularly important for organic farms where traditional chemical fertiliser is not permitted.

The spring rotation planner tool on PastureBase Ireland is useful to monitor progress on the farm. Kay started grazing paddocks from 22nd January (excluding paddocks used for out wintering) and it is expected that the second rotation will start around 8th-15th April. To achieve this, 30% of the farm will be grazed by 1st March, a further 30% will be grazed by 17th March and the final 40% will be grazed by early to mid-April. If some paddocks have not been grazed, these can be closed up for an early cut of silage. Or alternatively if growth rates are low and the first grazed paddocks do not have covers of 1200-1400 kg DM/ha, there will be an opportunity to graze them paddocks. As of 28th January Kay had a target of grazing 4% of the farm and this was at 9% so this can be easily monitored over the coming weeks by entering graze dates onto PastureBase.

Grass wedge Jan 2023

Kay's spring rotation planner


Kay completed her 2022 e-profit monitor and has been analysing the results. The most important figure from a management perspective is the output per livestock unit, which was 296kg/LU. This is a good increase from 2021 when the figure was 238kg/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. Kay’s target is >350kg/LU in a suckling system. In a non-suckling system the target is 500 kg/LU. She has a number of plans to help increase this figure on the farm.

The farm is stocked at 1.1 LU/ha, or 77 kg organic N/ha, which is the lowest in the Future Beef programme. However it is one of two organic farms and because of this the stocking rate will be naturally lower. For conventional farms it is difficult to generate sufficient cattle sales to cover the farm expenses when stocking rates are lower, however for Kay the value of her cattle sales are higher with the organic premium and her costs are lower with no chemical fertiliser or purchased ration. Although she plans to increase the suckler herd numbers over the coming years, this will be at the expense of the sheep flock for labour reasons so that the overall farm stocking rate will not be significantly impacted.

The gross output figure is calculated from cattle sales minus cattle purchases and add/subtract any changes to the inventory. Kay had a gross output figure of €815/ha which is the main ‘money in the pot’ to cover her variable and fixed costs. However, it is important to note that €279/ha is coming from an increase in stock inventory which is not physically money in the bank, but it is an asset on the farm. This increase is mainly attributed to an extra 12 weanlings on the farm and will translate into sales value for 2023/2024. The 3 biggest costs on Kay’s farm were:

  • Contractor (€62/ha)
  • Reseeding & lime costs (€52/ha)
  • Animal health/vet (€22/ha)

In total, the total variable costs (€200/ha) were 25% of the gross output figure. The target for this is less than 50%, for which Kay is strongly exceeding. Even with a lower stocking rate and output/ha, she made a positive net margin of €239/ha because her variable costs are so low on the farm. This net margin figure is before any direct payments such as BPS, BDGP, OFS etc. are added in which is extremely positive.

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

  1. Scan the suckler cows

This will help to identify any cows that are not in calf to avoid carrying any ‘passengers’ and ensure that all stock are productive on the farm. Any cows not in calf will be culled. This will increase the number of calves born per cow per year and will also increase the output/LU figure.

2.Sow redstart again this year

The weight gains from the finishing heifers and bullocks showed that they achieved higher weight gains (+0.38kg/head/day on average) on the redstart and good quality silage from November to January than what they gained at grass/multi species swards only from September to November. If the crop is sown earlier this year, it may be possible to graze it earlier in the autumn to help reduce the time the cattle spend on the farm and reduce the age at slaughter, while maintaining the carcass weights.

3.Continue to prioritise making good quality silage

Kay made a huge effort to improve silage quality on her farm last year. The silage results from 2021 ranged from 65.5% to 67.9% DMD and this resulted in winter weight gains of 0.3 to 0.48 kg/head/day on average between weanling and store cattle. This was below the target average daily gain of 0.6 kg/day.

In 2022 Kay began to cut strong grazing paddocks for silage and cut her main crop 2-3 weeks earlier than usual on 1st June instead of mid to late June. She mowed the silage before it began heading out to help keep the digestibility high, and also avoided tedding it which resulted in very high dry matter silages which would have restricted feed intakes. In 2022 her silage test results showed 71.2% and72.6% DMD silage, which has helped to increase weight gains over the winter and will again help to reduce the age at slaughter in her cattle as they will be at finishing weights faster.