William John Fitzmaurice is a suckler and sheep farmer based between Athleague and Four Roads in Co. Roscommon.
He is farming with the help of his son James, who also works off-farm, but has a keen interest in livestock and grassland management.
When Agriland visited the farm in February, the Fitzmaurices were in the process of restoring stone walls on the farm with the help of a stonemason in the locality.
The farm enterprise is suckler-to-beef with a large flock of mid-season lambing ewes.
In recent years, William explained he has been bringing more of his weanlings all the way to beef, while lambs are finished on the farm every year.
The type of cow on the farm is primarily a continental-cross Shorthorn.
William explained: “I look for a dual-purpose docile cow which will breed a nice coloured, shapey calf, that would sell well as a store or a weanling and their progeny are fairly easy to flesh if going to the factory.”
The suckler herd are all spring calvers, and get underway in late January.
Cows calve on a straw bed and when calves get a bit stronger, they are moved to the slatted shed. There, they have access to a creep area covered in rubber calf slats supplied by EasyFix.
William outlined: “We used to bed calves on straw until last year when we put rubber slats in for calves. The calf slats have been a great success here. Calves stay dryer on the rubber slats and seem to be quite happy lying on them in the creep area.”
During breeding season a stockbull is used on cows and Artificial Insemination (AI) on heifers. However, last year a Limousin bull was bought, which will cover the heifers as well this year.
William explained: “Our land is fragmented and sometimes heifer heats can go undetected, so the stockbull will be run with them this year.”
When selecting a bull, William explained: “I look for a bull with good length, width and a short head. He has to be well-muscled, well-balanced overall and not too tall.”
With the system currently in place on the farm, heifers are finished and sent to a local beef processor and males are kept and finished as under-24 month bulls.
“In the last number of years we didn’t have any steers, we have sold all as bull beef,” said William.
“I think there is a place for bull beef in the future, especially with all the talk around slaughter age.
“The animal is about nine months less around the farm and I’d be happy with the way prices are at the moment.
“Bulls are housed in the final days of July and are sent to a local factory by October 20, generally. I get most of the weight on the bulls from grass and they are finished in the shed with concentrates.”
William added that finishing cattle is the system that currently suits him best and noted that he used to sell all his cattle as weanlings. He added that farmers should always go with the farming system that suits them best and “not what someone else is doing”.
The sheep enterprise
Lambing takes place primarily outdoors and begins in late February.
Commenting on the outdoor lambing option, William said “it doesn’t suit every farm, set up but it suits us here”.
Ewes are confined on bare paddocks for the winter and are fed silage and concentrates using a sheep snacker.
William added that the most important thing in an outdoor system is “at the point of lambing, ewes are let to a good cover of grass”.
“If they have grass under them when lambing, it acts as a cushion when the lambs are born and the grass keeps the lambs up slightly off the ground, helping to keep them dry.”
“I let them in on grass that was closed in early October. We have four good sheltered fields, which are generally used for this purpose.”
“There are clumps of bushes growing on these fields and while it might look like a waste of land it works for us, as it provides great shelter for the ewes when they are lambing.”
Over the last few years, William and James have put a big emphasis on soil nutrition and sward improvement.
A lot of the farm has been reseeded recently and four different methods were used:
- Plough and power harrow;
- Power harrow;
- Heavy disk;
“We found the agriseeder worked best on our farm,” said William.
“It was completed by Keaveaney Agri, Glenamaddy, Co. Galway, and we hope to do more in the future.”
“With the Agriseeder, we sprayed off the field and had grass again in four weeks.”
Grass measuring is a relatively new venture on the farm and William admitted he was a bit apprehensive about it at first.
“My son James started measuring grass on the farm and initially, I didn’t see the point in it,” he said.
“It turned out to be one of the best decisions we have ever made. I would recommend grass measuring and I think more dry-stock farmers should try it.”
William said that by measuring grass, the farm has been able to grow more grass and identify the poor-performing paddocks that are growing very little grass and need attention.
“Some farmers say you can’t beat the meal, well I find that you can beat the meal if you have the grass,” he added.
Grazing and silage
Most of the farm is divided into 2ha paddocks and ewes and lambs graze them first, with suckler cows and calves following after them.
Silage is made for beef cattle from surplus grass grown on paddocks and the Fitzmaurices aim to make silage above 75% dry matter digestibility (DMD) for youngstock.
An area of ground is designated for making silage for dry suckler cows on the farm and it is allowed grow into a bulkier crop.
In the future, William and James aim to further improve their grass growth and the quality of the suckler-bred progeny produced on the farm.
Concluding, William added: “I would always encourage young people to get into farming because it is a great lifestyle. Young people with smaller farms who have an interest in the land can always get a part-time job and find a farming system that best suits them.”