Niall O’Meara is achieving impressive results with the beef breeding programme on his farm in Galway
Farming wasn’t his choice of career when he left school, but late starter Niall O’Meara is thriving in the beef game.
“I never studied agriculture in college because I didn’t think I’d end up in farming”, says Niall, who won the FBD Euro-Star €200 competition two years ago.
“I worked on building sites in Dublin, then as publican then as a haulage control technician before settling as a farmer when my uncle gave me land.”
Despite coming to farming slightly later than most, Niall is glad he returned to the land — he operates a one-man suckler beef farm in east Galway, with some help from his son Jack and daughter Kate.
“I got around a bit and got a lot of life experiences but I’m glad I went farming, it’s a good lifestyle and offers great flexibility, which was very helpful when the kids were growing up.”
Based in Killimor, he farms 60 acres and has a herd of 35 suckler cows, which is made up of a variety of breeds, Charolais, Angus, Simmentals, Limousins and Saler. The mix reflects the emphasis he places on breeding.
“We start breeding on November 7 every year. The bulls we use are all maternal; there are no terminal bulls used,” he says.
“It’s all about getting replacement heifers and R-grade bulls for the male progeny.
“Once the calves are in the shed in November, they are creep-grazed for the winter. Cows and calves go out of the shed in spring and the calves are weaned at the end of March or the start of April. The bulls are sold at a year old at approximately 500kg, a weight we’ve achieved in four out of the last six years.
“The breeding weight of the females is 475kg at 14½ months of age.
“Any female that doesn’t go in-calf is sold the following spring, between 18 and 22 months.”
Niall’s calving season will run for approximately 10 weeks from the end of August to mid-October, something he has worked hard over the last few years to reduce.
“I was 100pc AI for several years, but I bought a Simmental stock bull,” he says. “I did this so I could use him to reduce the calving spread, which was at 16 weeks. I’ve reduced this down now so I can go back to using 100pc AI now.”
When it comes to heat detection, Niall uses a vasectomised bull with a chain ball as well as tail paint.
“We run the vasectomised bull for the full breeding season and change the tail paint every couple of weeks,” he says.
“The bull doesn’t usually miss much, but just in case he does the tail paint is good to use as a back-up.
“For the year we had the stock bull, he ran with the cows, and I used AI for all of the heifers and the second year I used AI for the first 21 days and then let the stock bull in for the remaining seven or eight weeks.”
The cows get 1.5kg of meal for the three weeks leading up to the breeding season and the first three weeks of the season to make sure that they go in-calf.
In terms of bull selection, Niall uses a variety of AI straws from different breeds, including ch2218, fa2189 and lm2395.
While it may mean a busier workload at different times of the year, he has found working with a tight calving pattern to be far easier than the longer season.
“It is so much easier to be getting up in the middle of the night looking at three or four cows calving for a short time than it is to be getting up for six months to look at one cow,” he says.
Nationally most beef cattle calve in the spring, but Niall’s calving season runs from August to October, meaning he can calve cows outdoors and avoid the harsh winter weather.
“It’s easier on me, I don’t have to get up on cold, wet winter nights, and the majority of cows can calve out in the fields, I find it easier to calve them outside,” he says.
“I don’t have to put them in calving pens with straw beds or anything — even if I do have to pull a calf I can open the gate and let them back out into the field again.
“Also when the animal comes out of the shed for its first spring/summer it is ready to hit the ground running on the fresh spring grass.
“It’s a great way to get a bit of weight on a calf cheaply. I’m looking to get grass-based gains as opposed to meal-based gains.”
“I place huge value in the stars of a bull,” says Niall O’Meara. “While some people refuse to buy a bull without seeing a picture of it first, it’s not as important for me.
“By using a team of bulls, I aim to increase the herd replacement index by increasing the carcass weight, the daughter’s milk, reduce the calving interval and increase the docility.”
He spends a lot of time looking at the sub-index on each cow. “Hopefully, at the end of the day, I’m increasing my overall index. It’s easier said than done. It’s a balancing act but you’d hope through using a variety of bulls with different traits the overall index will rise within the herd,” he says.
While Coronavirus has stopped all discussion group meetings for the foreseeable future, Niall O’Meara says they have been very beneficial for his farming education.
“The changes on my farm have been immense because of discussion groups and going to visit different farmers to discuss various aspects of the farm.
“I got information on breeding, grassland management, and on where to sell cattle,” he says.
“Across the board, other farmers sharing their data and information has been huge.
“We developed our discussion group into a knowledge transfer group. I’m in a lot of schemes that are giving us money to do what we should be doing anyway.
“I bought a scales ten years ago and some of the stock, especially the young stock, are weighed up to seven times a year.
“The plate meter and the weighing scales are two of the most important tools on the farm.”
Niall O'Meara places a lot emphasis on growing grass to maximise the performance of his farm.
With a target weight of 500kg for his bulls, he focuses on getting as much high-quality grass as possible into them.
"I bought 750kg of a meal at the start of November which was split between 36 calves until March," he says.
"They were being creep-grazed in paddocks around the sheds for the winter and they still gained 1.04kg/day for the winter.
"Grass management is hugely important - I measure every week. I try to cut top-quality bales, aiming for silage that's around 72-73 DMD, which is very important, because cows need good-quality feeding when they're rearing calves over the winter."
While he aims to grow as much grass as possible, Niall's motto is quality over quantity when it comes to grassland management.
"I wouldn't grow 15-16 tonnes dm/ha as you see some other people do. If I can grow 10 tonnes, I'd be happy enough. I try to graze the sward just when it's coming right for quality, rather than wait for a few days to sacrifice the quality for more bulk," he said.
Niall has invested in splitting the farm into 45 paddocks, the majority of which can be accessed by roadways; and all of them have good water access.