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Getting back on track in south Mayo

Getting back on track in south Mayo

Michael Biggins and his son Niall farm just outside the village of Glencorrib in south Mayo. Gabriel Trayers, Teagasc Future Beef Advisor, tells us how they are getting back on track after a difficult spring, focusing on replenishing silage stocks, introducing a red clover sward and breeding.

The farm sits in a picturesque setting close to Lough Corrib, with the Connemara mountain range framing the backdrop. This year, Michael retired from his busy role as IFA Rural Development Chair and now works full-time on the farm. 

When I asked him how he is finding retirement, he responded: “It is a big change. I don’t miss the driving, but I do miss meeting all the people.” He also added: “But I’m far from idle. I can fill the day easily around the farm. This spring has been particularly tough and we are playing catch up now.”

Silage stocks

The farm comprises of 45ha fragmented into three blocks. The land would be described as dry, limestone, but there is also an area of a heavier, peaty type soil. There are 65 spring-calving suckler cows, with the bulls sold as weanlings and the heifers kept to the yearling stage.

Like most farms, the long winter combined with a late spring has depleted fodder reserves. The Biggins’ have only 23 bales left. 

Michael explained: “We need to make at least 450 bales this year, so that will be our number one priority.”

Michael got some of the silage ground closed in early April and it is now ready to cut. After harvest, he will apply 2,000 of gallons of slurry per acre with his new low emissions slurry tanker. The ground will then be topped up with 60 units of nitrogen per acre in the form of protected urea.

“Getting the crop cut in May will give a quicker re-growth, with the second cut taken before the end of June,” Michael said.

Figure 1: Silage crop on May 14. Nitrate test is negative, so it's good to cut

silage sward ready to harvest on Biggins farm

Along with the normal silage ground, Michael has closed an additional 5ac near the yard. Grass growth has taken off with the recent good weather. Growth rates this week were 77kg DM/ha and, with demand at 31kg DM/ha, the farm is growing surplus grass.

There are 26 days of grass ahead, so Michael can easily take out more ground for silage. The advantage is twofold; it will add to the fodder requirements and help control grass covers, i.e. cows will not be grazing heavy grass covers.

Red clover silage

To reduce the usage of chemical fertilisers and to make some high-quality silage, Michael and Niall have just sowed red clover.

“We are dipping our toe into red clover by reseeding 5ac just to see how it works out,” Michael noted.

They picked a very dry field, which was limed last year. To address phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) levels, farmyard manure was incorporated along with two bags of 0:7:30 per acre. Once established, the crop will receive solely cattle slurry as a fertiliser for the rest of the year.

“Both Niall and I have gone to farms that are using red clover and there seems to be very positive benefits.”

In a spring-calving system, Michael and Niall need a high-quality silage for their priority stock, such as weanlings or for cows after calving. “Red clover is a great option to deliver a quality feed, without the use of chemical nitrogen.” It seems a win-win.

The management of the crop is very important. Michael would have liked to have it sown earlier, but the late spring derailed this plan. On this he said: “I might graze it for this year but, if it grows well, I can take a light crop of bales. I will wait and see,” Michael commented.

Figure 2: Red clover sown on the Biggins' farm

reseeded red clover sward on Biggins farm


The farm runs two terminal Charolais bulls. In the past, a third replacement type bull was used on maiden heifers. Now, however, Michael and Niall have changed their policy slightly by using AI through a synchronisation programme. All of the maiden heifers, plus some cows not suited for a Charolais bull, were inseminated at the end of April. There are many advantages for the farm, including:

  • Choice of bulls to match individual females;
  • Faster genetic gain;
  • All replacements will be AI bred;
  • Eliminates the need for the third bull.

The synchronisation programme, with fixed time AI, reduced the requirement for heat detection. The group were kept beside the yard. Scanning will take place next week and Michael is hoping for a 60% conception rate. The two stock bulls were let out to the remaining cows on May 1.

For more information on the Future Beef Programme, click here.

Find out more about the Biggins' farm here.