Suckler cows from the herd of Patrick and Ciaran Kearney

Taking time to attend one of four farm walks next week could seriously improve your income from suckler cows.

On farm research shows clearly income goes up as age of first calving goes down so can you afford to keep elderly maiden heifers?

Data from BovIS has revealed that the average age of first calving in Northern Ireland suckler herds is 31 month so there is great potential to improved efficiency by reducing age at first calving.  An on-farm DARD Research Challenge Fund programme funded by AgriSearch and DARD has developed a monitoring tool to inform management decisions so replacements achieve the optimum size to calve successfully at 24 months of age.

Results from this research are the key theme for four farm walks starting at 2pm  on Tues, July 24 hosted by Arthur Birt, Portaferry, Wed, July 25 on the Fairhead, Ballycastle  farm of Sean McBride, Thurs, July 26  at Hugh McCollum’s, Ballykelly and finally at the home of Patrick and Ciaran Kearney, Plumbridge on Frid, July 27 

A performance monitoring programme developed by AFBI which tracks performance against age is key to putting in place management regimes that achieve 24 month calving.  This programme enables the age of individual animals to be determined automatically thus the target live weight for age is then flagged. Calculation of actual versus target live weights, along with long-term analysis, enables advice on appropriate feeding management to be given.

The targets set are 65% mature live weight by 15 months of age (bulling) and 90% mature live weight at 24 months (calving).  To ensure animals reach these targets the correct level of feeding is vital.  Data from this study has indicated that home-produced heifers are normally well on target at weaning, but careful management post weaning is required to ensure heifers continue to grow and maintain live weight in line with  targets over the first winter.

Early turnout to pasture in spring coupled with good grassland management ensures heifers continue to grow well during the grazing season and reach optimal weights for housing.  CAFRE’s Albert Johnston and local advisors will be at each farm walk to discuss grassland management during this challenging wet season.   

Three generations of the Birt family at Portaferry, Arthur, Artie and four year old Artie Og, look forward to hosting an AgriSearch farm walk at 2pm on Tues, July 24The first farm walk will be hosted by the Birt family, 30 Deerpark Rd, Portaferry, BT22 1PN on Tuesday 24 July.  They run 160 spring and autumn calving suckler cows, mainly using Simmental, Limousin and Charolais genetics; with all replacements calving at 24 months.  This year 40 heifers were synchronised and AI’d to an easy calving maternal Simmental sire with the aim of introducing new bloodlines for future replacements.

Host farmer Sean McBride with Albert Johnston (CAFRE), Pat McCambridge (CAFRE) and Francis Lively (AFBI)

The second farm walk hosted by Sean McBride, 28 Fairhead Rd, Ballycastle, BT54 6RD on Wednesday 25 July is on SDA land running 55 suckler cows plus followers and 550 breeding ewes.  Currently, the suckler herd comprises early maturing breed crosses originating from the dairy herd, which are mainly crossed to a Charolais bull.  However, an Aberdeen Angus bull is used on heifers and younger cows.  This year Sean has a batch of 22 heifers, bred from his Angus bull, which will be retained for breeding.  Currently, they are being rotationally grazed to ensure they meet set live weight targets to calve down at 24 months without the need for a high level of concentrate input.

Host farmer Hugh McCollum (left) with Francis Lively (AFBI)

The third farm walk is hosted by Hugh McCollum 42 Spallon Rd, Ballykelly, Limavady, BT54 9DT, who runs 100 Aberdeen Angus cows taking all progeny through to beef marketed by the Aberdeen Angus Quality Beef scheme, of which he is Chairman.  Hugh over-winters his cows on an outdoor corral which can be viewed during the farm walk. 

Host farmers Ciaran Kearney (centre) Patrick Kearney (right) with Francis Lively (AFBI)

The final farm walk will be at the farm of Patrick and Ciaran Kearney, 350 Lisnaragh Rd, Plumbridge BT79 8AP, who have a 50 cow suckler herd, mainly comprising Simmental and Limousin cows.  The Kearney’s traditionally calved replacements at 30-36 months, but this spring calved their first batch down at 24 months.  

At all four farm walks producers will see both maiden and in-calf heifers as well as young cows that calved down at 24 months this year and discuss the management practises set in place on the farm to achieve this.  AFBI researchers and CAFRE advisors will also be on hand to debate a range of topics to including suckler cow productivity and the role of grassland management in achieving set targets. 

Each of these events sign posted from the nearest village starts at 2 pm sharp with light refreshments provided.

In the interests of biosecurity those attending are asked to wear clean clothes and footwear not previously or subsequently worn while in direct contact with their own animals.  Protective overalls and foot wear will be provided.      

For further information on browse or contact Jason Rankin at AgriSearch tel: (028) 8778 9770