Farming near Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo is Pat Carthy, a suckler-beef farmer calving 30 cows in a split spring/autumn calving system.
Pat finishes all his beef progeny through ABP Food Group’s Advantage Beef Programme which rewards him with a 20c/kg sustainability bonus on all cattle slaughtered through the scheme.
As well as running a suckler to beef enterprise, Pat buys in 100-150 store lambs every winter and keeps these to finish.
His farm encompasses 120ac of fragmented land and Pat farms it on a part-time basis. He works off-farm also as a sales rep.
Farming from a wheelchair
34 years ago, Pat was involved in a car accident in which he lost the power off his legs but his positive can-do ‘get up and go’ attitude and his farm infrastructure which has been set-up to suit him, sees him operating his farm enterprise to the highest of standards.
Pat has invested in equipment, machinery, fencing, sheds and livestock-handling equipment which allows him to manage his farm to an excellent standard.
Some of the changes made to the farm include an auger system to deliver meal to the feed passage for cattle as well as the use of an ‘A’ frame on tractor attachments to allow them to be attached to the tractor easily.
He said: “You just have to plan things better. There’s nothing I can’t do. I’m probably slower at things but I can still do everything.”
Pat said after a busy day working on the farm, when he comes into the house to relax in the evening, he often jokes to his wife Edel saying: “That’s the first time I got to sit down all day.”
His positive outlook towards his career, his farm and life in general is admirable.
“We previously were selling our suckler weanlings in the mart, but we were selling them when all the hard work was done so we’re hoping to finish everything through ABP’s Advantage Beef Programme now,” he added.
The Sligo suckler farmer was also previously involved in the ABP Blade programme where he purchased Angus heifer calves from ABP and reared them to beef at 21-24 months of age.
He said: “We were happy with the system and liked finishing our own stock.”
Commenting on how he became a member of the Advantage Beef Programme, he explained that his local factory agent Michael Gallagher introduced him to the programme and from there, Amie Coonan and Oisin Lynch from the Advantage Beef Programme farm liaison team helped him with the process.
“In fairness, it’s just like an advisory group. We supply them [ABP] with the cattle and they help us with soil testing, dung samples silage samples and for doing all that, it’s a 20c/kg bonus,” he said.
Pat finishes all his suckler beef progeny destined for beef production through the Advantage Beef Programme.
Heifers are finished at under-24-months of age and male cattle are finished as bulls at under-16-months.
He said: “The reason I opt for the under-16-month bull system is because we are tight on shed space.”
All Pat’s cattle are processed at ABP Clones and he said his local ABP factory rep Michael Gallagher “makes it very easy” by organising transport of cattle direct to the factory.
Most heifers are finished at 22 months of age and Pat hopes to further reduce the age at slaughter of his female beef progeny through continued genetic improvement.
Pat explained that the bulls he is currently finishing in the shed went to grass on April 9, and were housed for finishing in late June.
Commenting on their performance, he said: “They gained 1.5kg/day on grass and 3kg/day of meal. It’s a learning curve, I probably should have pushed them a bit harder on grass but hopefully they will get away under the 16 months.”
Pat calves approximately 15 cows in spring and 15 cows in autumn. He said: “In spring, we don’t calve until March/April when cows are going out to grass.
“It probably is a little bit late but it’s either that or build more sheds and in the back end, we would calve in August and September.
“This year, we’re starting off [the autumn calving] in mid-July.” He hopes the earlier calving date will result in “a stronger calf going into the shed.”
His breeding strategy encompasses both a stockbull and the use of artificial insemination (AI).
Pat breeds his own replacement heifers from AI sires. He has a preference for Limousin-cross cows and and also has a share of Saler-cross cows.
“I particularly like a smaller-type cow averaging 550-600kg mature weight,” he said.
Pat explained how he manages the cows during the calving season. “Calving hasn’t been an issue as such. We have two calving gates here and if the cow is not making good progress calving, I would go in and handle her and if they are calving okay, I just leave them.”
When a cow needs assistance at calving, Pat explained he restrains the cow in a calving gate and from there, he can enter the pen and safely deliver the calf with the use of a calving jack.
“When I can’t get behind a cow with a jack, and thankfully it doesn’t have to be used too often, I’ll get out of the cows and when I can’t get up on the quad, I’ll cut back on farming,” he said.
“Down the road, [in future] I probably won’t be able for the calving of cows so the calf to beef is a great option there.”
Every winter, Pat buys in between 100 and 150 store lambs. He explained how the store lamb operation fits into his suckler-beef system.
“We buy in 100-150 store lambs for the winter and just run them on all the ground. It really cleans off any butt of grass because around here, come October, you have to house the bulk of the cattle because the ground is getting wet,” he said.
“There would be a pluck of grass but you couldn’t graze it [with cattle] and it would be gone rotten by spring so the sheep work well there and it’s a few pound coming in when there’s nothing else coming in.”
Commenting on his plans for the future, Pat said: “There’s no point saying I’m going to expand numbers or do anything drastically different, just try and keep doing things better. I don’t intend to expand any more number wise. Just do what you’re doing and do it better.”
Pat has a keen interest in nature and biodiversity on his farm and is always keen to avail of eco-schemes which incentivise the planting of additional trees and hedgerows.