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Ken Gill January/February Update 2024

Update on breeding season

Update on breeding season

  • Breeding season lasted 6 weeks
  • Cows and heifers will be scanned in early February
  • ICBF calving report for autumn 2023
Weight comparisons & management changes

Weight comparisons & management changes

  • December 2023 weights for store cattle
  • Comparisons to 2022 stores
  • Management at housing
ePM results for 2023

ePM results for 2023

  • 2023 profit monitor results
  • Output was lower due to 15 less heifers sold
  • Changes being implemented


Ken bred 14 heifers and 58 cows to AI bulls between the 1st of November and the 11th of December 2023, which amounts to a 6 week breeding season. While it means that the replacement rate on the farm is closer to 30% than the target of 20%, Ken enjoys knowing that he will be very busy for a set period and will then have time for a break before the breeding season starts again. The cows will be scanned in early February and Ken will finish any cows that are not in calf.

Weanlings at grass

Figure 1: Autumn 2023 calves are at grass by day

Last year extra heifers went in calf, thanks to a bull calf that was not castrated. Fifteen heifers were scanned in calf, much to Ken’s surprise. Unfortunately they were heifers that were not previously picked for breeding due to low replacement values and/or not meeting their target weights, and this led to more calving difficulties than normal. Two out of 15 heifers and 6 out of 16 calves unfortunately died during or after birth. However it really emphasised to Ken how successful the AI is on his farm where most calves are born from his cows and well-chosen maiden heifers without assistance. In autumn 2023 all male calves have been castrated in the first 7 days of birth using a rubber ring to avoid any future incidents!

This 2023 autumn calving season began on 8th August and finished on 15th December, lasting 18 weeks in total. All cows were calved within 6.5 weeks.74 females calved in total, consisting of 24 heifers and 50 cows. The herd’s calving interval was 374 days, close to the target of 365 days and well below the national average of 390 days.

Mortality was higher than expected on the farm at birth at 8.1%, due to the unplanned heifers calving. It hit 9.5% at 28 days, which is higher than the target of <5%. As previously mentioned, Ken is castrating the male calves in the first 7 days to avoid any similar situations. The calves per cow per year finished at 0.88. 71% of the heifers that calved were between 22-26 months of age, and the autumn 6 week calving rate was 82%.

ICBF Calving Report for 2023

Figure 2: ICBF calving performance report

The ICBF calving performance report also illustrates the change in calving pattern in 2023 vs. 2022 as a result of the extra heifers in calf. Eight heifers calved between October and December and none of these were bred as a result. Three calvings were recorded as ‘serious difficulty’ and 4 calvings required veterinary assistance.

ICBF Calving Report for 2023

Figure 3: ICBF calving report showing the 2023 calving pattern vs. 2022


The 2022 bullocks (33) were weighed on 22nd December. They averaged 453kg and gained 0.49 kg/day while out wintered on turnips, rape and kale. Ken was a little disappointed with this, as they historically have gained 1kg/day on the crop. However they have gained 0.84kg/day since birth, which is similar to last year’s bullocks that gained 0.86kg/day since birth up until the same time.

The 2022 beef heifers (13) were weighed on the same day and they averaged 420kg, after gaining 0.53 kg/day on the catch crop since 30th October. However despite the challenging weather conditions in 2023, they gained 0.78 kg/day since birth, which was the same as the 2021 heifers.

They are now housed and are eating good quality silage. Ken is considering separating the lighter cattle and feeding them organic oats to help them catch up on their heavier counterparts. The weights ranged from 277kg (heifer) to 526kg (bullock).

Store cattle in shed

Figure 4: Store cattle are now housed since December


Ken has completed his 2023 profit monitor. One of the most important figures on the ‘cattle detailed’ report is the output per livestock unit (LU). This year Ken achieved 316 kg/LU, which is back from the 2022 figure of 350kg/LU. 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. It is unsurprising that Ken’s output reduced last year as he had 15 less beef heifers to sell. The target for a suckler herd is >350 kg/LU and >500kg/LU for a non-suckling farm. Ken is confident that the figure will improve this year when cattle sales will be restored.

The stocking rate at grass was 1.52 LU/ha, but this is diluted across the farm due to the grazing of stubble ground after the organic oats are harvested and the grazing of the catch crop. The grassland stocking rate has reduced slightly from 1.65 LU/ha in 2022 but Ken doesn’t plan increase this any further.

The gross output figure is calculated from cattle sales minus cattle purchases and add/subtract any changes to the inventory. Ken had a gross output figure of €1339/ha which is the main ‘money in the pot’ to cover his variable and fixed costs. This is back by €310/ha on the 2022 gross output figure. The 3 biggest expenses on conventional drystock farms are purchased concentrate, fertiliser and contractor costs. As Ken buys in very little organic ration and is not permitted to spread chemical fertiliser these aren’t an issue on his farm, plus it means he is somewhat insulated from the price increases that occurred in 2022. His biggest costs for the year were:

  • - Contractor (€186/ha – up €34/ha since 2022)
  • - Animal bedding (€89/ha – up €2/ha since 2022)
  • - Seed & lime (€79/ha – back €3/ha since 2022)

In total, the total variable costs (€578/ha) were only 43% of the gross output figure, which is good. While the 2022 figure was excellent at 32%, the target for this on non-organic farms is less than 50%.

Ken has already started to implement the following changes on his farm for 2023;

1. Disbudding and castrating calves within 7 days of birth

Ken started doing this with his 2023 calves to avoid having any non-castrated males on the farm, to reduce labour when compared to castrating them at an older age, and to avoid having any cattle with horns that can be awkward to manage in the cattle crush and at feed barriers over winter. He invested in a calf crate to assist him with this, and can also tag the calves at the same time, which is safer than doing them in the field.

2. Soil sampling

Soil samples will be taken to provide up to date information on the soil pH, P and K levels on the farm. Poultry manure has already been imported for 2024 and this will be spread on the tillage ground before the oats are sown to provide nutrients to the crop.

3. Weaning strategy

The calves are being fed organic oats for 4 weeks before and 2 weeks after weaning to reduce stress on the calves and to help avoid weight loss as a result. They are continuing to go to grass by day and come back into the shed at night which is helping to break the bond with their cows. Ken tried the nose paddles on the calves for the first time last year. This year he plans to wean them in 2-3 groups using the nose paddles which will be inserted for 7-10 days at a time.

4. Continue with good grass management

Grass management is crucial to Ken’s system for finishing his organic cattle. He will continue using a paddock system, grazing at the target grass heights and measuring grass weekly this year. In 2023 his average pre-grazing yield was 1464 kg DM/ha, which was a significant increase from 973 kg DM/ha in 2022. He also grew an extra 0.63 kg DM/ha of grass in 2023 vs. 2022.