Keeping it simple... to ensure a thriving beef, sheep, pig and tillage enterprise

Fine-tuned grassland management allows the O'Connor family run a thriving beef, sheep, pig and tillage enterprise

Thomas O'Connor on the family farm in Moone, Co Kildare. Photo: Siobhan English
Thomas O'Connor on the family farm in Moone, Co Kildare. Photo: Siobhan English

Siobhán English

'Simplicity is the key," says farmer Thomas O'Connor. There are not too many farms in Ireland where you will see over 100 young bulls grazing together in harmony in one paddock, but it is this unique approach that gives the O'Connor family the edge when it comes to successful farming.

"Most farmers will have them split into groups of 20, but the way we work here works very well for us," he added.

The unique feature of this farm is the way the O'Connors paddock graze the cattle in large groups during the grazing season, as opposed to most beef farmers who divide their animals up into small grazing groups of up to 30 or 40. Their system reduces the workload.

All the grazing area is divided into two-hectare paddocks. The 90 cows and their 90 calves along with four breeding bulls graze out one hectare in one day. They get a new paddock daily. The paddocks for the other two groups of bulls and heifers are temporarily subdivided in half so that each half of the paddock is grazed out in one day. Again the aim is to graze out a one-hectare paddock in two days. They get better utilisation by grazing out in one day.

The O'Connors believe that using the same paddock for a number of days retards re-growth. There is no doubt that it is their exceptional grassland management that ensures a high return, year on year and one which will garner great interest during the farm walk on Thursday afternoon.

Together with his parents Monica and Tom, Thomas now runs one of the most successful farms in the country. Comprising beef, sheep, pigs and tillage over 242 acres, it is an incredibly busy operation for 12 months of the year.

"It's certainly one of the nicest farms I have seen in over 30 years," commented Christy Watson of the Irish Grassland Association.

Suckler cows

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"To have one of the top suckler herds in the country is a huge credit to them, as well as being in the top 5pc for grassland management."

Winner of the FBD Young Beef Farmer of the Year in 2015, Thomas joined in partnership with his parents that same year. He has since introduced new ideas and as a team they all work exceptionally well together. Thomas oversees the beef end of the business, while his father looks after the pigs. His mother, meanwhile, takes care of the ewes during early lambing.

The beef enterprise will be focused on during the farm visit. This comprises 90 suckler cows, with all male progeny finished as bulls under 16 months and heifers at 21 months.

Each year 200 additional cattle are purchased for finishing, comprising both young bulls and heifers.

The three pillars supporting excellent output are to be seen on this farm, namely breeding, grassland management and livestock management.

The O'Connors are achieving an annual stocking rate of 3.3 livestock units per hectare, and a beef output of 1,498kg live weight per hectare.

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