Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics

Future Beef Newsletter February 2024

John Dunne

Farmer Profile | Farm Update

Ger McSweeney - Farm Update | Ken Gill - Farm UpdateTop Tips for February

Top tips

 Farmer Profile - John Dunne

John Dunne

John Dunne's farm is divided into two main blocks.

John farms 125ha between owned and leased land. He lives in Tinacrannagh, just on the outskirts of Portarlington town. He farms full-time and is also helped by his son James, who is studying Agricultural Science in UCD. It is a busy farm with 90 suckler cows calving in spring. John also operates a dairy calf-to-beef enterprise, purchasing 120 calves annually. The majority of the stock are brought to beef, but he will also take advantage of a good live trade if the opportunity arises.

The farm is divided into two main blocks, the home farm in Tinacrannagh and a leased farm in Rathfeston, 18km away. The wintering facilities are excellent, with some weanlings grazing forage rape for the winter period. In order to improve the genetic merit of the suckler herd, John started using AI on his heifers with a synchronisation programme in 2022. In 2023, he expanded the use of AI into the main herd. An Angus bull is used to mop up the heifers and a terminal Charolais bull is used on the cows.

In the past, John sourced the 120 dairy beef calves from many sources and this contributed to a lot of health problems, which negatively affected lifetime performance. He has now changed to sourcing calves from two to three farms locally. He has also put in place a robust vaccination plan on arrival and this significantly reduced problems like pneumonia. To learn more about John’s farm, click ‘Read more’.

Farm Update - John Dunne

John is ready to plant his new hedge.

On a farm of this scale, the working agenda is always full but the priority at the moment is to get a 100m hedge planted before the deadline of March 31. In addition, calving will be starting in February, so getting the hedge planted as soon as possible is top of the list.

While the new hedge is a requirement of John’s Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) plan, he is aware that it will also enhance the overall biodiversity of the farm. Furthermore, he recognises hedges’ role in alleviating climate change by capturing carbon dioxide and storing it as carbon in woody growth, roots, leaf litter and soil organic matter beneath the ground (also known as carbon sequestration).

John has prepared well. He has sourced strong plants from a local supplier and will use a compostable film to keep the new hedge weed free for the first couple of years. See John in action in the video below and for further information on his farm, click 'Read more'.

Farm Update - Ger McSweeney

Ger with his wife Karen and daughter Ella.

With calving well underway, Ger’s attention is moving towards turnout. He plans to turn out maiden heifers to grass in the first week of February if weather allows, and these will be followed by calved cows and calves.

He aims to graze all paddocks once by April 17, which is also known as the first rotation. This will be achieved by grazing 30% by mid March, 60% by early April and 100% by April 17. This can be monitored on PastureBase Ireland (Figure 1). The benefits of following this spring rotation plan for Ger are to:

▶ graze off winter covers (average farm cover is 800kg DM/ha);
▶ maximise grass growth;
▶ ‘wake the grass up’ and encourage it to start growing;
▶ produce good quality grass for the second rotation;
▶ save silage and money, as the heifers are eating 2.5 bales of silage per week;
▶ reduce the labour of feeding and bedding; and,
▶ provide better quality feed into the weanlings so that they can gain more weight

Spring rotation plan

FIGURE 1: Spring rotation plan targets can be tracked on PastureBase Ireland.

According to AgNav, every extra week at grass reduces Ger’s carbon footprint by 1.9%. He will graze drier paddocks first at less than 800kg DM/ha and if weather allows, move to wetter paddocks and/or heavier covers. The paddocks will receive 23 units/acre of protected urea in late February when ground temperatures are over 5oC and weather conditions are suitable. A further 23 units of protected urea per acre will be spread in mid March. 

If the weather gets very wet or cold, Ger has no issue re-housing his weanlings and is keen to emphasise the importance of having a plan B when grazing early and of being flexible.

To read more about Ger’s new plan for his silage ground this spring, click ‘Read more’.

 Farm Update - Ken Gill

Ken Gill has finished a busy calving & breeding season.

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

Weanlings at grass

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. This led to more calving difficulties than normal. Two out of 15 heifers and six out of 16 calves unfortunately died during or after birth. However, it really emphasised to Ken how successful AI is on his farm. With AI, most calves are born from his cows and well-chosen maiden heifers without assistance. In autumn 2023, all male calves were castrated within seven days of birth using a rubber ring to avoid any future incidents!

Read more about Ken’s autumn calving performance here.