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William Kingston January/February Update 2024

Breeding the autumn herd

Breeding the autumn herd

  • Breeding update for autumn herd
  • They will be scanned in March
  • Analysing beef calving report for autumn 2023
Silage sample results

Silage sample results

  • Silage pit sample showed a significant improvement in DMD & CP
  • This has resulted in less ration being required by the calved cows
  • Mineral analysis results also back for pit silage
Latest results

Latest results

  • 2024 soil sample results are back
  • Overall soil fertility & soil pH has increased
  • P and K indexes have decreased on some fields


Breeding started on 6th October and has been ongoing, with the latest calving cows AI’d up to 12th February (18.5 weeks). William has noticed that more heifers are repeating than usual, despite them eating better quality silage than last year. He is considering taking blood samples to identify if there are any health or mineral issues. The herd will be scanned in March to determine how many cows and heifers are in calf.

The 2 spring cows are due to start calving on 14th February.

Cows and calves in new shed

Figure 1: Cows and calves in the new shed

With the autumn calving now complete, William has been looking over the calving performance report from ICBF. Calving started on 18th July and finished on 29th December, resulting in a 23 week calving spread for the cows and a 13 week calving spread for the heifers. 39 cows calved in total during that time.

Looking at the top 6 KPIs, the calving interval was 364 days which is excellent and is meeting the target of 365 days. William had 0% mortality at birth and only 2.4% mortality at 28 days due to a calf that died from a suspected scour. The target is less than 5% at 28 days so he has exceeded this. A set of twins meant that the calves per cow per year figure was 0.96 which was again on target and well ahead of the national average of 0.87.

All 7 of the heifers calved at 2 years of age without any major difficulty and again this is ahead of the national average where only 23% of heifers calve between 22-26 months of age.

The autumn 6 week calving rate was 44%, which is lower than the average of 64% and this is the main area for William to focus on improving over the coming years.

Calving performance autumn 2023

Figure 2: Beef calving report for autumn 2023

Animal Nutrition

A silage sample was taken from the pit in mid-January and sent for analysis. The results show that it tested at 71.9% DMD with 13.6% crude protein at 21.95% dry matter. This was a significant increase in DMD since 2022 when the silage tested at 59.9% DMD with 9.33% crude protein. For the calved cows, it is recommended that they are fed 3kg of a 16% crude protein ration to balance their diet, but this is less than half the ration required to balance last year’s silage. William’s calves grazed the silage ground last winter before it was cut on 30th May 2023. He found it worked well and has continued to do the same this winter.

The mineral analysis also came back for the pit silage and showed very good levels of minerals. The iron was very high and can act as an antagonist for copper (i.e. it locks it up and is unavailable to the cattle) so that may potentially be causing the fertility issues this autumn. A simple blood mineral test would identify if it is an issue. The results can be seen in the figure below.

Mineral sample results

Figure 3: Mineral analysis of pit silage

While the table on the second page of the report shows mineral intake requirement for dairy cows in early lactation, it can also be used as a guide for suckler cows. This table indicates that the silage is deficient in zinc and selenium at more than 20% under a cow’s requirement in early lactation. Copper, calcium and phosphorus are also low and again these may be contributing to the fertility issues that William is experiencing.

Ensuring that adequate amounts of these minerals are being provided in the ration and/or through a post-calving mineral may help.

Mineral sample results

Figure 4: Sample Analysed Values expressed as Percentage of Diet Dry Matter Mineral Intake Requirement

Further information on minerals required by suckler cows pre-calving can be found at https://www.teagasc.ie/media/website/animals/beef/future-beef/Mineral-Reference-Sheet.pdf

Soil Fertility

Soil samples were taken across William’s farm in January 2024. The results were compiled and used to develop a nutrient management plan for the farm for William to follow. This will allow him to make the best use of slurry and chemical fertiliser on the farm, and also to remain within his legal chemical limits.

The results were compared to the previous samples taken in January 2022 from the same fields. The overall soil fertility status has increased from 7% to 9% - this is the percentage of the farm that has a soil pH over 6.2 and is index 3 or 4 for Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). The soil pH has risen dramatically and 53% of the farm is at a pH of 6.2 or higher, whereas this was previously only at 35%. William has spread lime across the home block and out farm over the last 3 years and while 152 tonnes are still required, he has gotten a great rise in soil pH from the amount applied already.

The soil P index have dropped slightly; previously 61% of the farm was in index 3 or higher whereas this is now at 46%. It appears that the P indexes have mainly dropped back on the out farm which is grazed regularly and some silage is cut, but it has received less slurry than the home black as less cattle are housed there. With the addition of the new covered slatted tank and the extra slurry from the cows and calves that are housed on the out farm, this should help improve the P indexes over time.

The K levels have decreased too, with58% in index 3 or higher, which is back from the 90% previously. This seems to have followed a similar trend to the P indexes and they are broadly the same fields affected. Again the slurry should help here, but they can also be topped up with muriate of potash (50% K) where required. The ‘big silage field’ on the home farm has also dropped back to index 2 for K so this can also be topped up with slurry and 18-6-12 and/or muriate of potash to help build the index.

While William’s nutrient management plan is field specific, the general recommendations are to;

  • Spread slurry on silage ground to replace nutrient offtakes
  • Spread 1.5 to 3 bags of 18-6-12 on grazing fields in April/May and July/August to help build soil P and K indexes
  • Straight nitrogen can be spread as protected urea, with sulphur included on silage ground and on grazing ground applications from April onwards

2024 soil sample results

Figure 5: 2024 soil fertility status

2022 soil fertility

Figure 6: 2022 soil fertility status