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Future Beef Newsletter March 2024

Cathal Irwin

Farmer Profile | Farm Update

Trevor Boland - Farm Update | James Skehan - Farm Update | Top Tips for March

Top tips for March

 Farm Profile - Cathal Irwin

Cathal Irwin with animals

Cathal is planning to move his calving period to the spring.

Cathal farms 27ha just outside Castlebar in Co. Mayo. Like most suckler farmers in the west of Ireland, he works off farm, running his own business, Advanced Safety, which he founded in 2003.

The land is typical of the area, heavy clay with some peaty soils. It is also fragmented. Cathal keeps 20 suckler cows with the plan to finish all the male progeny as under-16-month-old bulls and sell forward store heifers. 

The plan is to move the calving period from October/November into early spring, which will be a more natural system for the farm. As a part-time farmer, Cathal has limited time for farming and needs to invest in a new slatted shed to reduce his labour input. He is currently waiting on approval from the Targeted Agriculture Modernisation Scheme (TAMS), but hopes to start this year.

A Simmental stock bull is used, but Cathal will incorporate AI also. He aims to calve all of the herd compactly in eight weeks. The replacements are homebred, with all heifers calving between 22 and 26 months of age.

Cathal has divided the farm into paddocks and focused on building the soil fertility over the last number of years. He’s done this by applying lime and switching to higher phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) compounds like 18.6.12. Click on ‘Read more’ for further information.

Farm Update - Cathal Irwin

Despite having a heavy type farm, Cathal aims to get stock out early in spring. When ground conditions were dry in January, he managed to get yearling heifers out for 13 days of grazing. 

There are many advantages to this:

▶ early spring grass is extremely digestible and high in crude protein (CP);
▶ it increases the proportion of grazed grass in the diet and conditions swards for subsequent grazing rotations – it initiates growth and removes dead material that has built up over the winter;
▶ it conditions the sward to produce new leafy vegetative growth;
▶ important on silage ground especially to clean off the winter growth; and,
▶ overall, grazed grass is cheaper than feeding silage and meal.

In 2023, Cathal grazed off the silage ground before closing it. He applied slurry by St Patrick’s Day at 2,500 gallons/acre and then applied 80 units of protected urea nitrogen (N) per acre the following week. Silage was cut in early May, resulting in a high-quality silage at 75% DMD. In the past, silage was cut in late April or the first week of June.
Cathal will continue with the same plan for 2024. As the heifers grazed off the silage field in January, the farm cover is low at 5cm. Once ground conditions dry up sufficiently, slurry will be applied followed by 80 units of protected urea N by the end of the month. In addition, he will apply 23 units of protected N to the grazing ground. The next two weeks are important. Cathal is hoping the rain will stop. To learn more about his plans, click on ‘Read more’ and see the video below.

Farm Update - Trevor Boland

Trevor says calving during the summer and autumn suits him and his farm.

Trevor farms part-time in the picturesque setting of Bunnafedia, Dromard, Co. Sligo. He is married to Tara and is farming in a Registered Farm Partnership with her and his father Joseph.

The farm is 48ha and fragmented into three main blocks. The suckler herd consists of 50 cows that calve in August, September and October, explains Trevor: “Calving at this time of year suits me and the farm. As I am working, there is a lot less risk to calving outdoors and in most cases very little intervention is required”. 

To add to the output of the farm, Trevor buys in yearling early maturing breeds in early spring and aims to finish them off grass in late autumn. As an accountant with ifac, his job is all about figures, and he looks forward to completing his own profit monitor for the following reasons:

▶ establishes the physical and financial performance of the business;
▶ the farm’s performance can benchmarked against other farms;
▶ monitors progress on the farm over time;
▶ sets realistic targets to improve profitability; and, 
▶ takes control of the business to return more profit.

Trevor has been completing the profit monitor since 2009, and the farm has showed steady progress in terms of profitability. In summary, his goal is to make a gross margin of €1,000/ha in the next two years. He is getting there and the results from 2023 show positive progress. For further information, click on ‘Read more’.

 Farm Update - James Skehan

James Skehan Future Beef Farmer

James with his wife Joanne and their children Macarton and Nellie.

James changed the calving season for his herd in 2023 to match the grass growth on his farm. This year he really enjoyed the break between Christmas and when calving started in early February, so he plans to continue it. Breeding will start on April 26 and finish on July 5, which amounts to 10 weeks. So what will he be doing to prepare for it?

  1. Getting to grass – getting cows to grass as soon as they calve to build body condition back up.
  2. Vaccinations – a booster vaccination against leptospirosis will be given by early March, with heifers receiving the primary vaccination, which consists of two injections four to six weeks apart. The infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) results from autumn showed that 11 out of 20 cows are positive for IBR, so on veterinary advice James has vaccinated all breeding stock against it too.
  3. Minerals – the cows and breeding heifers will be given two boluses at turnout, which contain copper, iodine, cobalt and selenium.
  4. Selecting heifers for breeding – heifers have already been picked based on their Eurostar figures and parentage, but their weight will be monitored to ensure they are over 400kg at 15 months of age. These will be synchronised and bred to AI in the first week of the breeding season to an AI bull.
  5. Buying a new stock bull – the old bull was sold in 2023 and James has a new bull bought who will be arriving to the farm this month. He will be fertility tested beforehand and will also be vaccinated against leptospirosis and IBR.

Click ‘Read more’ to see about James’s bull selection for 2024 and the synchronisation plans for the heifers. 

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