Martin Connollys Virtual Farm Walk
The second phase of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme was launched in the spring of 2019 and since then Martin along with our 11 other participating farmers have been working closely with our programme advisors Alan Dillon, James Fitzgerald and Seán Cummins on implementing farm plans aimed at achieving a net margin of €500/ha before farm subsidies are taken into account. On Thursday, 10th September 2020, Martin took us on a virtual tour of the farm.
Watch the videos below to find out more about Martin and his farming system
Meet Martin Connolly
Host farmer Martin Connolly farms part time just outside Castleplunket in Co. Roscommon. He runs a calf to bull beef system on 60ha of fragmented and slightly heavy land, where he buys in 120 spring-born, dairy-bred male calves and brings them through to slaughter at under c.22 months of age. Martin explains some of the main aspects of the system he runs such as how he sources his calves in large numbers from three local dairy farmers and has been traditionally achieving a carcass weight of 320kg at just under two years old. From here on as part of the Teagasc Green Acres farm plan, a carcass weight of 335kg or higher will be targeted while putting a major focus on achieving this extra carcass weight and controlling variable costs through improving grassland management and silage quality and implementing a rigorous herd health plan.
Host farmer Martin Connolly farms part time just outside Castleplunket in Co. Roscommon. He runs a calf to bull beef system on 60ha of fragmented and slightly heavy land,
Improving silage quality
Over the last couple of years Martin’s silage quality was below par mainly due to the harvesting dates being too late. The heavy nature of the ground he farms along with high levels of rainfall in the springtime resulted in him not being able to get his silage ground grazed off in time to close it up in early April. As a result closing and harvesting dates for the 1st and 2nd cuts were delayed by over a month, substantially reducing silage quality.
This year the first cut silage ground was fertilised for silage in mid-March having been grazed tight with weanlings at the end of the 2019 grazing season. Fertiliser and slurry were spread to make up a rate of 90N 15P 90K per acre. The first cut was harvested on the 11th May and has returned a result of 73DMD on testing. The second cut was then taken up immediately with the same rate of fertiliser.
The second cut was harvested on the 27th June. A knock on effect of having the silage harvesting completed earlier was that Martin had aftergrass to graze the calves on far earlier this year and expects this to have a positive effect on the liveweight gain of the calves. Along with this Martin has been measuring grass weekly and baling surplus paddocks as the opportunity arises, resulting in an additional 200 bales of high quality forage harvested to date and improved sward quality all grazing season.
The silage ground has received lime based on the advice of soil samples taken last year and 8ac are currently being reseeded which will be added in to the 1st cut ground for next year. Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef advisor Seán Cummins also discusses why silage quality is so important for calf-to-beef systems and what steps need to be taken to ensure that a high-quality winter feed is made on farm.
Why silage quality is so important for calf-to-beef systems and what steps need to be taken to ensure that a high-quality winter feed is made on farm.
Achieving better weight gain
All grazing season Martin has been using Pasturebase to keep better control of the pre and post grazing heights on the grazing ground. He has been targeting a pre grazing yield of 1400kgDM/ha and a post grazing height of 4cm for all of his stock and achieving this consistently. He finds that the grass measuring has allowed him to make better decisions in terms of grassland management and improve his farm substantially in this regard. A high value is placed on the surplus bales he has harvested off of his grazing ground and is currently using them as part of his bull finishing diet due to their very high feeding quality. Martin has also found that the additional splitting of fields he has done is helping him to make grassland management easier. In total there are now over 40 grazing divisions on the farm.
As part of the Green Acres programme all stock are weighed 3 time during the year. These weighings are timed to coincide with housing, turnout and mid grazing season. This allows us to track how the cattle are doing relative to the targets we set for them. On Martin’s farm we have identified that the calves are achieving a satisfactory level of thrive over the rearing stage and first grazing season. In order to achieve better weights we are going to target a better weight gain during the first winter and second grazing season. Improved silage quality and accurate meal supplementation will be central to achieving an average daily gain (ADG) of 0.75kg for the first winter. Good grassland management and herd health will be central to achieving an ADG of 1.1kg over the second grazing season resulting in a housing for finishing weight of 500kg. Over the course of the following 120 days the bulls will be built up to 8-9kg of concentrates as part of a TMR and will be slaughtered at an average carcass weight of 335kg.
Martin has been using Pasturebase to keep better control of the pre and post grazing heights on the grazing ground. He has been targeting a pre grazing yield of 1400kgDM/ha and a post grazing height of 4cm for all of his stock and achieving this consistently.
As part of Martin Connolly’s farm plan, an element of reseeding was included to not only improve the quantity of grass grown on the farm, but to also maximise the quantity grown each year. Over recent weeks, Martin has reseeded 8ac on his farm with a dual-purpose grazing and silage mix. In this short clip, Martin discusses the steps he completed to ensure that his autumn reseeding programme was a success – both in terms of germination and for the longevity of the sward.
Over recent weeks, Martin has reseeded 8ac on his farm with a dual-purpose grazing and silage mix. In this short clip, Martin discusses the steps he completed to ensure that his autumn reseeding programme was a success – both in terms of germination and for the longevity of the sward
After desiccating the existing sward in early August, the Roscommon-based farmer applied lime at a rate of 2t/ac in order to bring soil pH to the optimum level of 6.3 for perennial grass seed varieties. The soil cultivation process involved two runs of a disc harrow and two runs of a power harrow before the seed was set. Once sowing was completed, the field was rolled to limit the impact of leather jacket attack and to ensure a good soil-to-seed contact was achieved.
In terms of the seed mixture used, ‘Greenacres Goldbite’ – a mix from Drummonds – was selected; it contained varieties rated highly on the Pasture Profit Index and it was suited for an early graze in the spring, one cut silage in mid-May and grazing for the remainder of the year.
‘Greenacres Goldbite’ seed mixture:
- Abergain (2kg)(tetraploid);
- Meiduno (2.5kg)(tetraploid);
- Oakpark (3.5kg)(diploid);
- Aberchoice (3kg)(diploid);
- Chieftain white clover (0.36kg);
- Coolfin white clover (0.24kg)
After the sward has established, Martin plans to re-enter the field with a post-emergence spray to tackle any seedling grassland weeds before they become too established. However, this step will depend on the weather conditions that occur towards the latter half of the month.
Achieving Good Herd Health
With a wealth of experience in rearing calves Martin realises the importance of keeping calves as healthy as possible over the rearing stage and the impact that can have on the latter stages of the production system. On Martin’s farm, the basics in terms of sourcing calves from a few known sources, optimising the rearing environment, using the correct feeding regime and regular health checking are all done well.
To add to this a comprehensive vaccination programme for Pneumonia, IBR and clostridial diseases has been put in place with the help of MSD Animal Health Ireland which is having a huge positive effect on calf health. Having weighed up the €20/calf cost of the vaccination programme versus the antibiotic usage saved, time saved treating sick calves and the increased performance of the calves (particularly the bottom third of calves) Martin is happy that implementing this vaccination programme will be a central part of his calf health plans for years to come.
Having already seen an increase in calf performance due to improved herd health, Martin expects this effect to have an even greater knock on effect on performance of these cattle in their second grazing season and finishing stage. Whereas in previous years a cohort of finishing bulls would perform below that of what is required as a legacy of having been set back by pneumonia in earlier life, Martin is expecting next year’s finishing bulls to be far more uniform in their performance and achieve a higher average carcass weight as a result.
Martin realises the importance of keeping calves as healthy as possible over the rearing stage and the impact that can have on the latter stages of the production system. On Martin’s farm, the basics in terms of sourcing calves from a few known sources, optimising the rearing environment.