Farm Ireland

Thursday 24 May 2018

Despite major difficulties of this year, it's critical we all start to look forward

Denis Minogue

With the end of the grazing season approaching, we will undoubtedly look back unfavourably on 2012. Both the performance at pasture and overall economic performance were hit by our inability to grow and, in turn, utilise as much grass in the Derrypatrick system as possible.

We have noted a significant drop in silage quality. Dry matter digestibility (DMD) of first and second-cut silage is estimated to be 70pc and 60pc respectively. This is a drop of 8pc and 13pc for first and second-cut silage respectively when compared to 2011. Low DMD silage will lead to concentrate being offered to cows throughout the winter (approximately 1kg/hd/day) in order to avoid extreme loss of body condition during this period.

Despite the difficulties experienced this year, we must now look towards 2013. Scanning results in August indicated that we have pulled forward our mean calving date by two weeks (28/02/13).

Although our empty rate stood at 18pc for 2012, it is clear that we have enhanced our potential to target our gains at grass.

We have predicted that 80-90pc of cows will have calved within the first eight weeks of the calving season. This will allow us, weather permitting, to turn-out to pasture earlier and, in theory, have heavier calves at the end of the grazing season.

After meeting with farmers over the last while, I was regularly questioned about the potential to improve the empty rate by extending the breeding season. In theory, it seems like an attractive option to improve our overall output. In practice, however, continuing the breeding season outside of the designated 12 weeks will undoubtedly lead to later calvings and lighter calves at the end of the grazing season.

Another key negative aspect of an extended breeding season is the additional cost, in terms of fertility performance. The earlier calving cows will have benefited from grazed grass post turnout and increasing body condition score in preparation for the breeding season. Long gestation lengths of late maturing sires (290 days), in addition to the anoestrus period (on average 50 days), means it is unlikely that this animal will remain in the confines of any compact calving system. This emphasises the importance of a strong fertility component within the cow, as she has just 15 days to maintain that 365-day calving interval.

This year's very heavy rains have highlighted the limitations of a heavy soil type. As a result of this, we will possibly look at implementing low cost strategies for improving drainage in areas throughout the farm. These areas would have continuously held surface water for the entire year. Some reseeded areas, as a result of water remaining on the surface, were under severe stress and began to show the seed phase at a relatively early stage (900kg DM/ha). Ground conditions were challenging, and continue to prove challenging, for a large section of the farm. It is clear, however, that we cannot improve our grass growing potential of the Derrypatrick unit until we eliminate whatever drainage problems are present.

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At present, the Derrypatrick Herd is a breed evaluation study. Within it, we have a range of cows, with a range of performance and weaning weights. The next step is to drive the system to its full potential, through the use of high genetic merit animals to maximise production. This requires our replacement strategy to seek out high genetic merit animals for the herd. This will allow us to demonstrate the benefits of genetic enhancement within our cows, and its implementation at farm level.

Although the Derrypatrick Herd is a breed evaluation study, ultimately, grass is, and always will be, the driving force on any farm. It is evident that the availability of low-cost barley based feed is virtually at an end. With these points in mind, we can assume the cost of beef production will increase in the future. We, therefore, need to maximise grass growth and utilisation. This will be our main goal for 2013.

Denis Minogue is a beef specialist at Teagasc Grange and has responsibility for the Derrypatrick Herd. Email:

Indo Farming