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Kay O'Sullivan June Update

Important month for breeding

Important month for breeding

  • Set breeding dates for your herd 
  • Good heat detection is vital for good conception rates
  • Review your ICBF beef calving report
Walk farm weekly

Walk farm weekly

  • Continue to measure grass weekly
  • Take out any strong paddocks for silage
  • Look at paddock size and see if stock groups can be bunched up or paddocks subdivided to make the best use of grass on your farm
Have you considered sowing a forage crop on your farm?

Have you considered sowing a forage crop on your farm?

  • Fodder crops can be sown to provide extra forage next winter
  • They can be built into a reseeding programme
  • Ensure an adequate lie back is available to minimise damage to soil


Kay started breeding her spring calving cows to AI on 15th June and will continue to do so until approximately the 25th August which will result in a 10 week breeding season. This means that calving will start around the 25th March and continue until the 5th June next year. As Kay lambs the ewes in early spring, she prefers to delay calving to help spread her workload on the farm.

The ICBF beef calving report shows the latest calving statistics for calves born from 1st July to 30th June every year. Kay has been reviewing hers since she finished calving. This year 24 live calves were born from 23 calved cows on the farm, which includes one set of twins. This gave Kay an exceptional figure of 0% mortality for calves at 28 days of age. None of the cows had any difficult calvings which greatly assisted this figure, as Kay carefully selects suitable easy calving bulls that match her cows.

Due to personal reasons in 2020, Kay decided to breed less suckler cows and only calved 12 last year, but still retained the other cows. As her circumstances changed last year, she bred her optimum number of cows and heifers and is back up to 23 suckler cows this year. However this has had a visible impact on her calving performance figures. The herd average is 489 days, which is considerably higher than the target of 365 days, due to the number of cows that had not calved in 2 years (33% of the herd). This also affected the number of cows per cow per year, which was 0.67 and is calculated as follows: (365/calving interval) x (No. calves alive at 28 days / no. of eligible females).

However Kay calved 67% of her heifers at 22 to 26 months of age which is significantly higher than the national average of 23%. She also had an excellent 6 week calving rate of 82% and 100% of the calves born were sired by AI bulls.

Next year, Kay expects to significantly improve on these figures and will be targeting a 365 day calving interval, mortality <5%, 0.95 calves per cow per year and to have 0% recycled cows. As she is breeding all her replacement females to AI this year, she expects that 100% of the calves born will be sired to AI bulls and aims to maintain her excellent 6 week calving rate. She will also be looking at increasing the number of heifers calved at 22-26 months of age.

Key Performance IndicatorKay's HerdNational Average
Calving interval 489 days 395 days
Mortality (dead at 28 days) 0% 2.36%
Calves per cow per year 0.67 0.86
% heifers calved 22-26 months of age 67% 23%
Spring 6 week calving rate 82% 54%
Recycled cows 33% 17%
AI sired calves 100% 16%


Grass was measured on the farm on 26th June. Kay had a farm cover of 964 kg DM/ha, with a demand rate of 26 kg DM/ha and a growth rate of 23 kg DM/ha with 37 days of grass ahead. Her pre grazing covers are 1200 kg DM/ha and she opted to take out 3 paddocks with covers over 1500 kg DM/ha for silage.

Kay has a number of multi species swards on the farm and a query arose whether it was best to measure them with the ‘cut and weight’ technique or with the plate meter which she routinely uses. The multi species swards in the Teagasc research centre in Johnstown Castle are measured using a plate meter so will Kay will continue to do this on her farm as well.

As the ewes have been weaned on the farm, it is allowing her to have a larger grazing group of 75 ewes and another group of 44 hoggets and cull ewes. The ideal paddock size for the larger dry ewe group is 0.24 ha (0.6 acres) for 3 days grazing at a pre grazing yield of 1400 kg DM/ha. However there is only one paddock on the farm that is the size, with the rest ranging from 0.49 ha to 1.97 ha in size. This could be corrected by having a bigger bunch of grazing stock, or dividing paddocks. Kay is already planning to divide 2 of her larger fields (1.94 and 1.85ha) into 2 sections each which will leave them at 0.97ha and 0.93 ha respectively. This will allow a greater recovery period for the paddocks after grazing, and will allow for better grass quality as Kay will have more control over the pre-grazing yields.

The lambs are grazing the multi species swards and are being drafted for slaughter as they come fit.

Animal Nutrition

Kay is considering planting a forage crop for her cattle to graze next winter. As it is a little late in the season to sow kale, she is considering sowing redstart which is a kale/forage rape hybrid. The forage rape genes allow the crop to grow quickly, while the kale genes deliver excellent winter hardiness. It can be mature in 90 days from sowing and be utilised from October onwards as a high energy protein crop for out-wintering cattle or sheep, and should be strip-grazed.

Ina  conventional system expected yield from a well-established crop of redstart will result in 6-8t DM/ha @ 12-14% DM and 18-20% CP and energy levels of 10-1 1MJ/kg DM when sown at the recommended rate of 3 to 3.5kg/acre if drilled or 4.0 kg/acre if broadcast.

Redstart is low in minerals like selenium, iodine, copper and cobalt and hence it’s essential to give a bolus prior to grazing to ensure adequate minerals are supplied. If you want to stretch out this crop you could increase the fibre allocation if housing is the issue but make sure these crops are finished grazing by mid-February as they will begin to flower. A fresh supply of water and roughage in the form of hay or silage is required during grazing.

Kay is hoping that it will rejuvenate the soil in the particular paddock that she is considering and will control weeds (mainly docks) when it is reseeded next spring. She sowed kale in the past and it was attacked by pigeons so she is hoping that sowing redstart will prevent this from happening again but will monitor it closely. She will only sow half of the field to ensure that there is an adequate lie back with access to other paddocks (2ha lie-back recommended for every 1ha forage crop sown).