Ken Gill March/April Update 2023
Review of calving & scanning results
- ICBF calving report available for autumn 2022
- Scanning results
- Sexed semen considerations for autumn 2023
ACRES in action
- BMPI completed for the farm
- ACRES scheme approval
- ~500m of hedging planted on the farm
2022 profit monitor results
- 2022 eprofit monitor completed
- The farm was well insulated against fertiliser & ration cost increases in 2022
- Areas of focus for 2023
Ken’s latest ICBF calving report shows that he started calving on 29th July and finished on 6th September 2022. This was a total of 5 weeks and 4 days which resulted in a 100% 6 week calving rate. The calving interval for the herd is 367 days which is well ahead of the national average of 393 days.
While mortality on the farm was low in 2021, unfortunately this increased for last year. Five calves were dead at birth, with a further one dead before 28 days which gave a mortality figure of 8.2% at 28 days. There were less twins on the farm in 2022 too so the calves per cow per year figure finished at 0.91, which is still ahead of the national average at 0.87.
100% of Ken’s heifers calved at 22-26 months of age and no cows were recycled on the farm. 22 cows were culled which shows a replacement rate for the farm of 30%, whereas this is typically 19% on other farms. The higher replacement rate is mainly attributed to the tight 6 week breeding season.
Ken’s 2022 ICBF calving report
The herd were scanned and 64 cows are confirmed in calf. One cow was scanned with a set of twins and another with a set of triplets! Calving is expected to start from 12th August and continue to 20th September.
71 females were bred in total, consisting of 15 heifers and 56 cows. 58 females held in calf to one serve. This shows a conception rate to the first serve of 82% which is excellent; the target is over 70%. Eight females were bred twice and six of these were scanned in calf. This left Ken with 11 cows that weren’t served as they were pre-selected for culling and 5 cows and 2 heifers that were served that did not go in calf.
Ken is considering using sexed semen on the herd this year, but the lower conception rates are a concern.
At a 25% replacement rate and a target of 70 cows, he will need 18 replacement heifers per year. In order to breed these he will need the following numbers;
- Breed 18 replacement heifers to sexed semen at a conception rate of 60% and 90% gender bias = 9 females.
- Breed 20 maternal cows to sexed semen at a conception rate of 50% and 90% gender bias = 9 females.
While this will not account for any embryo loss or mortality, it means 38 sexed semen straws would be required in total to produce 18 replacement heifers. For Ken however he could then use more terminal sires on approximately 32 other cows, plus terminal sires could be used on the repeating heifers and cows (~17) that don’t go in calf with a sexed straw.
The Teagasc biodiversity management practices self-assessment tool for linear habitats was used to see how Ken scored on the farm.
- Hedge management
- The internal hedges are at least 1.5mabove ground level (1 point)
- There is a flowering tree in every hedge (1 point)
- Layout of farming platform
- The average field size (i.e. surrounded by permanent biodiverse boundaries) is not less than 5ha (0 points)
- Field margin management
- At least 1.5m uncultivated margins are retained when cultivating (1 point)
- Spraying is not carried out on the farm (1 point)
- Watercourse management
- All watercourse banks are fenced on the farm (1 point)
- All watercourses have fenced margins over 1.5m (1 point)
- There is no livestock access to any watercourse (1 point)
In total Ken scored 7/8 points for biodiversity practices on the farm. He is aware of the importance of hedgerows for shelter, habitat connectivity and biodiversity on the farm and as such applied for over 500 metres of hedge planting through the ACRES scheme.
He sowed this before the end of March after receiving confirmation that he is accepted into the scheme. Ken used a digger to loosen the soil and planted a combination of whitethorn, blackthorn, hazel, spindle, guilder rose and oak 3 year old whips which cost €1.10 each. It will be fenced on both sides to ensure stock cannot access it.
The 2022 profit monitor was completed for Ken’s farm. The most important figure from a management perspective is the output per livestock unit, which was 350kg/LU. This is slightly back on 2021 when the figure was 369kg/LU, but a huge improvement from 270kg/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. The target is >350kg/LU in a suckling system and in a non-suckling system the target is 500 kg/LU. Organic farms face an extra challenge in their systems as they do not have the luxury of feeding high organic ration levels to achieve a high output, so excellent breeding, animal health and grass management are crucial.
The grassland stocking rate on the farm is 1.65 LU/ha but Ken also grazes stock on catch crops over winter which helps to dilute this. From the amount of housing available and the potential of the farm to grow grass, he is comfortable at this and will not be increasing it 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 €1649/ha which is the main ‘money in the pot’ to cover his variable and fixed costs. 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 (€152/ha)
- Animal bedding (€87/ha)
- Seed & lime (€81/ha)
In total, the total variable costs (€521/ha) were only 32% of the gross output figure, which is excellent. The target for this on non-organic farms is less than 50%.
Based on these results, Ken has a few main aims for the year;
1. Use sexed semen
Ken plans to try out sexed semen in his breeding herd this autumn. As he has excellent fertility and calving performance it is a huge opportunity for breeding his replacement heifers. It will then give him more flexibility to use more terminal animals on the rest of his cows, to increase the output/LU from the herd.
2. Keep home-grown oats
Ken sold all of his home grown oats in 2022 for €434/tonne. However he had to buy back in organic ration at a cost of €840/tonne for feeding to the calves so he will avoid this for 2023 by keeping 4-5t of his home-grown organic oats.
3. Target higher pre-grazing yields
Ken’s target pre-grazing yields for this year will be 1400 kg DM/ha on average. This was 978 kg DM/ha on average in 2022 and while the grass quality in front of stock was excellent, it is suspected that they didn’t perform as well as they could have at a higher pre grazing yield, and it also slowed re-growths in paddocks.
4. Targeted spreading of poultry manure
This will be tested and spread accordingly on tillage ground to help build up soil indexes and supply nutrients to the tillage crops.
5. Handling area
Widen the area beside the crush so that the scraper can fit in. Also make slight adjustments to the entry point into the crush to allow for better animal flow. This will reduce labour and improve health and safety.
6. Potential to install roadways as part of the new TAMS scheme?
With grants now available for roadways, Ken will investigate if they would be worth installing on his farm to reduce labour when moving cattle and to give more flexibility/accessibility for grazing some paddocks.