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A stitch in time - actions taken during challenging weather pay off at breeding

A stitch in time - actions taken during challenging weather pay off at breeding

Aonghusa Fahy discusses how he managed bad weather conditions, maintained the body condition of cows ahead of the breeding season and tailored his bull team to match the needs of his herd.

I had to re-house the cows and calves because of the wet weather, which was far from ideal as calved cows needed to be out for lots of reasons. I was conscious of cows losing body condition and while I had very good silage, I decided to give them over a kilo of meal per day. I did not want them getting thin before the breeding season started.

In addition, I let the calves off out the field by day. It surprised me how well the calves and their mothers adapted. The calves would be waiting to go every morning and they would run the length of the field with their tails up — a lovely sight to see. I would let them in again at night. It was a much healthier environment and saved a lot of straw. Research shows that breaking the ‘maternal bond’ by restrictive suckling will bring the cows back into the breeding cycle quicker.

It certainly worked; I have heats recorded on all the cows except two. So I pre-scanned that pair: one had fluid on the ovary; and the other was not cycling. The vet advised me to estrumate the cow with the fluid to clean her out and just to observe the non-cycling one for now.

Grassland management

I finally got the cows out to grass on April 17 and the 11 maiden heifers the following day. It was a welcome relief from a labour point of view and they needed to get to grass before breeding. I blanket-spread 25 units/ac of protected urea across all of the home block. There are a couple of paddocks that will be too strong to graze, so I will take them out as baled silage. It will bank some silage and means I will get slurry out in early May and close again for a second cut.

I have only 16 bales of silage left, so I will need to make 200 bales. I will apply 20 units/ac of protected urea after each round of grazing and any paddock that gets too strong, I will remove as baled silage. This is also a great way of controlling grass and maintaining good quality swards.

A graphic containing a picture of Aonghusa Fahy and the Teagasc and Signpost logos


The vasectomised bull was out with the cows for the three weeks before breeding started, so all are well acclimatised. The Moocall Heat collar is charged up and I have also been tail painting for some extra re-assurance. Breeding started on April 26. I will AI for six weeks and use the bull to mop up for three — a nine-week breeding period. This will mean a tight calving period for 2025.

The big advantage of AI is that I can pick a team of bulls to match the cows and heifers. I used a Charolais bull, Igor, last year and I have great calves so I will use him on plain cows again. I have picked the Limousin bulls Loyal and Drumline S for replacements and I will use these on proven cows.

I ordered some Jalabert straws. This is a Charolais bull with a Replacement Index of €173 and a Terminal Index of €167 and he is easy calving for cows. I have heard good reports on him.

This article first appeared in the Farming Independent as part of a Signpost Update. More information on the Signpost Programme is available here.

Find out more about Aonghusa Fahy’s farm here.

Aonghusa is a participant in the Teagasc Future Beef Programme. Learn more about the programme here.