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Future Beef Newsletter January 2023

John Pringle

Farmer Profile | Farm Update

Olivia Hynes - Farm Update | Eamon & Donnchadh McCarthy - Farm UpdateTop Tips for January

John Pringle Farmer Profile

John Pringle

John Pringle is a full time Suckler and sheep farmer in Kilacloran Aughrim Co. Wicklow. He farms with his wife Linda, daughter Lucy and sons William and Scott.

Farm Size: 58ha – one block

Soil Type: Overall dry farm, running from 330ft above sea level up to 640ft and back down again

System: 45 spring calving suckler herd, males finished as u16month bull beef –  average 380kg  carcass, grade U-. Heifers not kept for breeding are sold at 23 – 24 months. All breeding heifers calve between 22-26 months

Sheep 225 mid-season lambing flock.

Infrastructure - The farm is well paddocked and John uses temporary fencing to further divide fields for better grassland management. The soil fertility on the farm needs improving, 38% of soils had a pH < 6.2 and John has applied lime already. The Potassium is high on the farm with an average index 4, while Phosphorous is on average index 2.

Key Focus Areas

  • Maximise weight gain off grass – reduce concentrate input
  • Reduce age at slaughter
  • Improve soil fertility and consequently reduce chemical Nitrogen usage
  • Incorporate red and white clover

See farm profile here

Top Tips for January

  1. Body condition score your cows and feed accordingly
  2. Ensure to feed a good quality pre calving mineral for at least 6 weeks before calving
  3. Carry out vaccinations programmes in time
  4. Walk your farm and repair/replace or add new fencing/gates etc. before the busy calving season starts
  5. Look at your soil samples and plan your slurry and fertiliser applications for when soil conditions allow application

John Pringle January/February Update

In Aughrim, January is all about setting up for the calving season due to start mid-February. The preparation falls into four headings

  • Body condition and nutrition including minerals
  • Health – vaccination for scour and IBR.
  • Shed preparation
  • Equipment check


John has reassessed the Body Condition Score (BCS) of all the cows and heifers. He likes all his heifers to be a BCS of at least 2.75 when calving, they are a younger animal and still growing so they need the extra condition. The mature cows can be a little lower at a BCS of 2.5 but no less. In Johns experience if you have thin cows they can be slower to calve down, lack energy to calve and they are much slower to come back in heat after calving. While cows that are too fat can lay down fat in the birth canal and have a difficult calving.

The heifers are on a 73DMD silage and were gaining too much condition, from the beginning of January John has been diluting the silage with 15-20% straw or hay.

The cows came in in very good condition, as the silage is so good John has been restricting the cows since December. This was with 20% straw or hay.

As the protein level can be a little on the low side when diluting with hay or straw John feeds 250 grams of soya to both cows and heifers for 2 weeks pre calving.


Every year what mineral should I use is a question we all ask. John researched his mineral and has used the same mineral powder for a few years now and knows it works on his farm. He has lively calves that get up and suck. The cows calve down with no issues, there are no retained cleanings, the cows have plenty of milk, they dont suffer from milk fever and most importantly, the cows go back in calf. Looking at the macro minerals which are fed in grams you can see why you cannot feed them in a bolus- unlike trace elements.

Johns mineral has:

  1. 25% magnesium,
  2. No calcium,
  3. 4% phosphorous and
  4. 13% sodium.

If you look at Table 1 you can see when john is feeding 100grams of mineral powder a day he is feeding 25 grams of magnesium, 4grams of phosphorous and 13 grams of Sodium, well within the parameters of what’s required per day.

Table 1: Showing Suckler Cow requirement for macro minerals pre calving (Higher spec dairy mineral feed to suckler cow at 100gms per day)

Major Elements

Required g/day

What you see on label

Feeding 100grams/day

Feeding 120gms/day



17 - 20g



20 grams/day

If potassium levels are high in silage may need to increase to 30g



0 – 2%







4 grams

4.8 grams/day

>3% if feeding straw




13 grams

16 grams/day


As we move down the table we have our trace elements, which are fed in milligrams, 1gram is equal to 1000 milligrams, so the quantities are much smaller.

Table 2: Showing Suckler Cow requirement for trace elements pre calving (Higher spec dairy mineral feed to suckler cow at 100gms per day)

Trace Elements

Required mg/day

What you see on label

Feeding 100grams/day

Feeding 120gms/day



200 - 400

2,700 mg/kg

270 mg/day

324 mg/day

1/3 protected if high Mo, Su, Fe see note


4 - 6

50 mg/kg

5 mg/day

6 mg/day

Issue re toxicity


20 - 60

500 mg/kg

50 mg/day

60 mg/day

NB for sucking reflex


5 - 10

100 mg/kg

10 mg/day

12 mg/day



335 - 415

1,000 mg/kg

100 mg/day

120 mg/day



335 - 600

5,400 mg/kg

540 mg/day

648 mg/day

1/3 protected if high Fe

 Table 3: Showing Suckler Cow requirement for vitamins pre calving (Higher spec dairy mineral feed to suckler cow at 100gms per day)



What you see on the label 

Feeding 100g/day 

Feeding 120g/day 




400,000 iu/kg

40,000 iu/day

480,000 iu/day




100,000 iu/kg

10,000 iu/day

12,000 iu/day

NB in Milk Fever



2,000 iu/kg

200 iu/day

240 iu/day

Keep higher on straw diet

The lower end of the scale is for routine feeding, the higher end if advised if stock are at risk of a severe deficiency.

*If potassium (K) levels are high in silage, could have to increase magnesium levels to 30 – 40gms

**If feeding straw ensure the phosphorous level is >3%

***If you have high Molybdenum (Mo) >3.0ppm, Sulphur (S) >0.3% or Iron (Fe) >400ppm, then having protected Cu can be an advantage

****If you have high Iron (Fe) >400ppm, then having protected Zn can be an advantage

Like everything, it’s important we know what is required and then we can see if our mineral meets that requirement. In reality if you buy from a reputable merchant, feed the recommended 100 – 120 grams for 6 weeks you won’t run into problems. Usually where you see an issue, it is where a low volume is fed for only 3-4 weeks.

As we know input costs have, sky rocketed in the last year, but also remember, every extra €200 per tonne of mineral will cost an extra €1.20 per cow over a 60-day feeding period. It’s a false economy to scrimp on your pre calving mineral.

Feeding out:

  • John is feeding 100grams of mineral powder along on top of the silage every morning. 
  • All cows have access to feed at the same time, therefore all animals are getting there delay requirement.
  • Calving will start on the 14th of February this year, so John started feeding mineral just after christmas. Many problems with minerals are caused by feeding the incorrect rate for too short a time, not by the spec of the mineral itself.
  • John uses a bucket, weighs out the mineral and then marks the bucket so he know how much to feed daily. He also keeps and eye the number of bags used – a 25kg bag should feed 40 cows for 6 days when feeding 100 grams per day
  • Johns cows are turned out to grass very soon sfter calving. If cows are housed for a period you should feed a post calving minerals are high in calcium to help with milk production and prevent Milk Fever.

How about mineral buckets? The issue with buckets is getting the volume into the cow and the variability of intake. In addition, feeding buckets outside can attract badgers; they love the molasses in the buckets.

Last year’s minerals, if bags are clean, dry and unbroken – feed first, it’s the Vitamins and organic elements that will go off first.

See here for a Mineral Reference Sheet (pdf). This is not a definitive guide but can be used to discuss your mineral choice with your advisor or vet.


Fluke is not an issue on John’s farm, so he is not dosing for it. If you have a fluke issue you should ensure your suckler cows are dosed well before calving.

Mature cows have resistance to stomach worms and lungworm, so they do not require dosing.

First and second time calvers should receive a worm dose, they are still growing and calving can be a stressful period, which could lead to a break down in immunity, so it is better to dose, following all best practice protocols to avoid resistance building on your farm like dose to the heaviest animal, ensure your dosing gun is calibrated etc.

Both cows and heifers should be treated for lice once all are housed.

Trim all udders and tails to reduce the opportunity of the calf ingesting dirt when suckling, hygiene is paramount in a calf shed. 

Scour Vaccination. John vaccinated all his cows and heifers for E.coli, Rotavirus and Corona virus. He also vaccinated for IBR pre calving. Like with all vaccines you must give the animal’s body time to build up immunity before it is required. With the rota and corona virus the vaccine is a single shot vaccine and must be give at least 3 weeks before calving, but it should not be given and more than 12 weeks pre calving. This ensures there is optimum antibodies in the colostrum for the calf when it suckles. These antibodies then pass from the colostrum into the calf’s blood stream giving it passive immunity. The obvious point to make is that the calf needs to get a good feed of colostrum and fast, our general rule is 3 litres of colostrum in the first 2 hours after birth.

IBR Vaccination. John also has IBR on the farm. Research has shown that vaccinating cow’s one-month pre calving helps to reduce the amount of IBR virus shed during the stressful period of calving. The antibodies also pass through the colostrum into the calf’s bloodstream and thus immune system.

Hygiene: cleanliness in the calving shed and with calving equipment is critical to avoid illness in calves. Slats and calving pens should be scrapped and limed, keep calving pens clean and well bedded. If you know you have a bacteria or virus and are disinfecting pens ensure the disinfectant you use works against the pathogen – read the label.

Calving Preparation

Calving is due to begin on the 14th of February. But as we all know this is only a guide, so John like to have everything ready and waiting for when the first arrival comes. John has 6 calving pens and one calving gate and moves the cows down the shed. Currently all six calving pens have straw bales in them. These will be removed in the next week, the shed cleaned, disinfected, limed and well bedded.  

John has no cameras or monitors, so these do not have to be services.

The calving gate and calving jack will be checked and any issues fixed

John then has a Calving Checklist to ensure everything is on hand, in the yard for the first calving.

Gloves, two set of ropes, two stomach tubes, iodine, calf jacket etc.  



Olivia Hynes Farm Update


Olivia’s farm can be described as very dry so early turnout in February can be achieved provided there is grass available. All of the ewe flock will have lambed by the end of Feb so there is a big demand for Spring grass. While there is some capacity to hold ewes in post lambing , weather permitting , Olivia likes to get out to grass 2 days post lambing for health and labour benefits.

Currently there are good covers of grass at home in Jamestown (16ha). This area was closed back in October in order to grow grass for February. The average farm cover is close to 900kgs/DM/ha.

There is also additional fields closed on the outfarm in Kilcash since October.

Due to improvements in the fencing infrastructure in 2022, the paddocks were closed on a rotational and controlled basis . More ground could be rested and allowed to recover over the winter period giving more grass in spring. The picture below highlights where the sheep flock are grazing while the adjacent field is growing grass over the winter period. In previous years the sheep would have all the field grazed bare by springtime.

New Sheep wire fence Olivia Hynes

With the use of permanent fencing the fields can be further split using reels and pigtails. This is an easy and cheap way of dividing fields but a good mains fence is required. The aim for the future  is to graze out paddocks in 3 days and rest for 3 weeks. Therefore, more divisions are required.

temporary sheep wire fence olivia Hynes

The month of January is a time for repairing fences , getting reels ready and  fixing water troughs as February , March and April is busy lambing, calving and moving stock .

Eamon & Donnchadh McCarthy

Eamonn & Donnchadh McCarthy Future Beef farmers

Soil Fertility

Eamon & Donnchadh took 22 soil samples on their farm between winter 2021 and spring 2022. The results (see below) showed that 68% of the farm had a pH less than the target of 6.2 and that a total of 134t of lime was required to correct this. Lime delivers a 7:1 return on investment and increases the response to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in organic and chemical manures, as well as releasing up to 70kg N/ha/year soil nitrogen. As such, the McCarthys spread 70t of lime in October and 64t in December to get it working ASAP.

Eamon & Donnchadh are hoping to incorporate clover onto their farm over the next few years to help reduce their chemical nitrogen usage. Correcting the soil pH is the first, most important step, in working towards this. The second step is to get the phosphorus and potassium indexes to a minimum of index 3.

Currently, 62% of the farm is in index 1 or 2 for phosphorus and 42% is in index 1 or 2 for potassium. Slurry will be spread using the dribble bar and targeted to fields that have the highest nutrient offtakes (i.e. silage fields); then to lower P and K index fields. The dung produced on the farm is ploughed into the tillage ground in the autumn. Due to the lower soil indexes, 18-6-12 is the main compound used on grassland and 13-6-20 is used on tillage ground to help improve the indexes.

The slurry produced by suckler cows on the farm was tested last year and showed the nutrient content per thousand gallons. This showed an average result of 10.15 units nitrogen, 5.76 units phosphorus and 28.03 units potassium per 1,000 gallons of slurry. As the suckler cows are on the slats again this year, the slurry sample results should be similar. This allows Eamon & Donnchadh to spread the required amount of chemical fertiliser to top up silage fields and on grazing ground, which is both financially and environmentally beneficial. Spreading slurry with the dribble bar in spring is also retaining 3 extra units of nitrogen per 1,000 gallons.

As they are following a nutrient management plan based on the farm soil sample results, Eamon and Donnchadh have forward bought most of their fertiliser for 2023 due to concerns over availability and price. Aside from compounds, their main chemical nitrogen source is protected urea. As per the table below, this is cheaper than CAN and straight urea per effective unit of nitrogen, and also produces 71% less nitrous oxide than CAN and 78% less ammonia emissions than urea. Eamon and Donnchadh have been using protected urea for the last few years on the farm and are very happy with the results.