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Shane Keaveney: Why I went down the 16-month bull route

Male progeny of my Saler bull were hard to sell at the mart so I switched, but rising meal prices could force a rethink of my suckler system

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Heavy ground: Shane Keaveney with his herd on his farm just outside Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. Photos: Brian Farrell

Heavy ground: Shane Keaveney with his herd on his farm just outside Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. Photos: Brian Farrell

Some of Shane's cows and calves

Some of Shane's cows and calves

The herd bull

The herd bull

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Heavy ground: Shane Keaveney with his herd on his farm just outside Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. Photos: Brian Farrell

I farm full-time, just outside Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. I am married to Grainne, a nurse, and we have three children: Aaron, Neil and Annie. The farm size is 27.5ha and is fragmented into three blocks.

Overall, the farm is heavy in nature, with a mixture of clay and peat soils. Over the last number of years, I have built up the herd to 35 suckler cows, and this is the maximum planned.

My system is simple and suits the farm, with all male calves finished as under-16-month bull beef, while heifers are slaughtered off grass or sold as forward stores.

The cow type is mainly Limousin-Saler crosses and calving starts in the first week of February.

I like to get the calving over quickly and finish in the first week of April. I find when the calving period is short, I can focus on that job only. It takes the same time to observe and pen of cows as it does to look at one cow.

Also, the calves are very even and can be managed as one group when it comes to dosing/weaning etc.

It is important for me that every cow has a calf every 365 days, to have a chance of making a profit from suckling.

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Some of Shane's cows and calves

Some of Shane's cows and calves

Some of Shane's cows and calves

Over the years I have used a Saler bull, which has given me high-genetic-merit, functional, milky cows, but the male progeny were difficult to sell at the marts.

So five years ago I decided to go down the 16-month bull road.

Rising meal prices are creating some doubt on the option of bulls for next year, but I don’t need to make my mind up until Christmas and will review it later in the year.

I also calve my heifers at two years of age. The best heifers are kept as replacements and this year there are 12 heifers for bulling.

All of these heifers weigh 390-400kg at the beginning of May. I won’t need to keep 12 but I will sell a few in-calf next spring.

There is a Charolais bull running with the cows, and this year I decided to use AI on the heifers. I got a vasectomised bull with a chin-ball for heat detection and kept the heifers in a field beside the yard.

I decided to use sexed semen on the heifers in order to get replacements for next year. The Limousin bull Lennox was used as he is easy calving.

Seven came in heat quickly and were AI’d once. Two of these repeated and were given another straw. However, five did not come into heat so I used a PRID on them, to get them into calf. To date nothing else has repeated.

These heifers will be scanned in early July and any empties will be put with the store heifers and will be sold at a later stage.

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The herd bull

The herd bull

The herd bull

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The bull was let out to the cows on April 28 and he will be removed after 12 weeks, to keep the calving period tight. The last time I saw him active was on May 28, so it looks like February and March will be busy again next year.

June is a relatively quiet month. So far, the year has been very kind with good dry spells and rain when it was needed. I cut silage in the last week of May and have closed another 26ac for second cut.

As part of the Future Beef programme, there is a big focus on better grass utilisation. I have been part of a grass focus group for the last number of years.

There are great benefits to meeting monthly to discuss grassland issues that arise. At our last meeting, we visited a farm which had put in a multi-species and red clover swards last year.

There was great interest in the topics, given the rise in fertiliser prices. I have already begun to change practices to reduce the overall amount of fertiliser used.

I am making more use of slurry. Last week, I applied slurry to low covers of grass, ie 4cm, using the trail and shoe system. This replaced a round of fertiliser.

In fact, I have not spread fertiliser to the grazing platform since the end of April but I will have to spread 20 units of protected urea/ac in the next week.

At the end of the month, we have a family holiday booked. It will be great to get away and recharge the batteries.


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