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National Winning Suckler Farmer Event

04 July 2019
Type Media Article

By Catherine Egan, Beef Specialist, Teagasc Athenry

Last December Niall O’Meara was awarded National Commercial Herd Winner of the FBD €200 Replacement Index Herd Competition 2018. Niall took the overall award along with having won the Connaught/Ulster title. The award rewards excellence in beef breeding performance of his commercial suckler herd. 

Teagasc, ICBF, FBD and the Irish Farmers Journal will be hosting an open day on Niall’s farm on Tuesday 16th July at 2pm.

Niall farms full-time on his 24Ha farm just outside the village of Killimor in east Galway. The farm has 30 suckler cows. Male progeny are sold at 12 months with a high percentage of the heifers retained in the herd and bred at 14.5 months.

Over the past number of years the farming enterprise has undergone many changes. These changes were all simple steps but have proved very beneficial. Niall’s key focus is on breeding, herd health and grass, three very important areas for a profitable beef enterprise. It was clear there was huge scope for improvement in his suckler cow enterprise. It was decided to have a clear calving period from mid-August to end of October.

Niall’s suckler herd consists predominantly of Limousin and Simmental cross cows with a selection of Charolais, Angus and Saler cows.  He has been using maternal AI sires in a bid to generate sufficient replacements for the herd. ‘I use maternal AI sires as it gives me options. There is only one route for terminal-sired animals. I admit I may be taking 10-20cent/kg less but given their genetic potential the weight for age compensates for this’, says Niall. Careful selection for particular traits such as calving difficulty, docility, carcass weight and daughter milk have led to the herd achieving an average replacement index of €108. ‘I always look at the average cows in my herd and not just the top cows.’

Regular weighing of stock on the farm has focused Niall’s attention on achieving high daily liveweight gains from grass. All of the changes on the farm have been relatively simple and have not required significant levels of capital expenditure. The main aim is to increase output on the farm while controlling costs by focusing on a grass based system. Niall continues to target a gross margin of €1,000/Ha annually. While big changes have been made in this area, there is still room for improvement.

Niall operates at 2 LU/Ha and in 2018 achieved at output per LU of 380Kgs which was above the national average of 298 Kgs /Ha. Given the output being achieved on the farm makes it one of the top herds in the country.

High quality grass swards play a huge role in achieving consistent target weight gains of the yearling bulls and getting heifers to target breeding weights at 14.5 months. According to Niall ‘achieving high output cheaply is very important and I pay a lot of attention to grassland management during the year to ensure a long grazing season and maintaining quality swards for grazing’. He has made huge progress in recent years in grazing management and has recently put in new roadways and increased the number of paddocks on the farm. He also uses pigtails and reels to further divide paddocks during peak grazing periods. “I have 24ha of land, but 45 paddocks,” says Niall. ‘I’m completely convinced of the value of grazed grass. I operate a rotational paddock system, but it doesn’t matter what kind of system you have so long as you are getting fresh grass into them every few days. To do that, you need really good infrastructure.” The aim is to graze each paddock for three days and allow 18 to 21 days recovery and re-growth. Niall’s view is “I used to be a beef farmer but now I am a grass farmer who produces beef “

On the day there will be a selection of demonstrations, discussions and displays of stock. The emphasis is on highlighting the technologies and management tools Niall uses to achieve excellence in beef breeding performance of his commercial suckler cow herd. Technologies related to beef genetics, reproductive management, grassland management and animal health will be on display. The day will provide an opportunity to meet with industry stakeholders with a selection providing various display stands on the day. The open day will provide an excellent opportunity to see and discuss the key elements involved in operating a high performing family run suckler herd that has consistently achieved top results over the last number of years.

This is a Beef Knowledge Transfer (KT) Approved Event.