Farming outside of Castlemartyr, Co. Cork, Pat Collins and his family run a mixed farm consisting of both tillage and dairy calf-to-beef enterprises, on owned and leased lands in a number of different blocks.

The tillage enterprise consists of winter wheat, barley and oilseed rape, spring barley, beans, maize and sugar beet. Many of the crops are retained on farm as winter feed for the beef enterprise and excess cereals and beet etc. are sold off farm.

There are approximately 130ac in grassland, which is made up of traditional permanent pasture, red clover swards, and more recently, multi-species swards (MSS).

To date the MSS pasture has only received 15 units per acre of chemical nitrogen (in March), with none applied over the summer. The permanent pasture plots have already received 80 units of chemical nitrogen per acre.

Pat plans to cut the red clover in early September for a fourth time. This crop received two bags of 0/7/30 per acre after the previous cut in July.

If available and when conditions allow, the red clover plots will receive cattle slurry after cutting to replenish nutrients for the subsequent crop.


This spring, over 300 calves from around 12 different dairy herds were bought in at two/three weeks of age and reared.

They were weaned off milk at approximately ten weeks of age, 85kg in weight and consuming greater than 2kg of concentrates. Currently on the farm there are five groups of calves at grass and receiving no meals.

The calves bought in were mainly Friesian bull calves and 38 heifer calves. Depending on the number of calves purchased and reared next spring, these heifers will either be sold as stores next year or slaughtered off of grass next October/November.

All male animals on the farm are finished as bulls. There are currently 118 bulls housed and on their finishing diets for the last month. These will be drafted as they become fit with the aim to be slaughtered in September/October at 19-20 months of age.

The remaining 75 bulls were grazing in two separate group until August 25, but have now also been housed. They will now be built up to a finishing diet with the aim to have all bulls slaughtered before Christmas.

Planning now for early spring grass

Now is the ideal time to put a plan in place to have high-quality grass available for your stock next spring.

Traditionally, very little growth occurs between November and February, therefore in order for grass to be available for grazing in February/early March it must be grown this October. For that reason, each year the grassland management calendar starts in the autumn.

The autumn rotation planner is a key tool used during the last grazing rotation. The plan must be to close up a set amount of the farm each week until the whole grazing area is closed and animals housed.

The paddocks to be closed first in the autumn should be the paddocks/fields that will be grazed first in the spring. These fields are generally the driest, most sheltered and closest to the yard.

Autumn grassland planner

The autumn grassland planner is based on a 60:40 rule of thumb, where 60% of the total farm area should be closed by November 7, or one to two weeks earlier on wetter farms. A consistent amount should be closed each week up to November 7.

When calculating your target areas, ensure to include all lands to be grazed in the spring, including silage ground that will be grazed before closing for silage.

If you start closing ground on the week of October 10, you have four weeks to achieve your 60% target. Therefore, 15% of ground should be closed each week. The remaining 40% should be closed from November 7, to housing.

The idea is that when all paddocks are closed by early December that there would be a range of grass covers on the farm from grazed out (4cm) to 8-9cm. This would give an average farm cover of around 6-7cm which equates to 500–600kg of dry matter per hectare. This will be the grass that will be available next spring before the growth starts.

Pat’s plan

Pat has approximately 130ac grassland for grazing next spring. In order to have 60% (78ac) of this grazed by November 7, he will need to close 15% (20ac) of his farm each week if he starts closing fields from the week of October 10.

After taking into account fields needed to meet these targets, Pat’s plan is as follows:

Dates% per weekTarget area to close per weekField name/numberActual area grazed
October 10-1715%20acPaddocks 2, 4 and 821ac
October 18-2415%20acReseeded fields18ac
October 25-3115%20acLower fields19ac
November 1-715%20acOut farm20ac
Total by November 760%80ac78ac
Pat Collins’ plan

Pat’s paddocks two, four and eight are good dry fields close to the house and yard that could be grazed early next spring. These will be the first closed. Stock will graze them out tight to have good-quality grass growing from the base.

During the second week, reseeded ground will be tightly grazed off and closed. Again this is solid land down the road from the home farm.

As we move into the second half of October it is important to get heavier lands grazed out before winter sets in, so Pat as identified the lower fields as the next paddocks to graze out. These are slightly heavier type soils and if the weather breaks they would be slightly more difficult to graze out properly.

The paddocks on the out farm will then be grazed in the first week of November. This is dry ground and is further away from the yard.

The remaining 40% (52ac) will be grazed out between November 7, and housing. Depending on weather, a number of animals may have been housed by now and this area can be covered younger, lighter stock.


If you are ahead of the target areas to be grazed, extra stock may need to be housed earlier than was planned or if ground conditions allowed you could offer supplementary feeding at grass. Heavier cattle should be housed first if ground conditions deteriorate.

If you are grazing too little area to meet the targets, then the rotation needs to be sped up; this can be done by grazing some of the lighter covers first in order to get the required area grazed off.

Key points:

  • Start closing from October 10;
  • Graze fields/paddocks out tight, to ensure that new grass is fresh from the base;
  • Meet the target areas per week, if not the grass won`t have enough time to grow
  • Even if great weather in mid-November, don`t be tempted to graze fields that are now closed over a month and have nice covers on them.

Farm walk and live forum

On Tuesday, September 12, at 5:00p.m, Pat is hosting a DairyBeef 500 farm walk and Live Forum on his farm where all are welcome to come along and see Pat’s system in action on the ground where 2023 born calves and finishing bulls will be on display.

To book your place at the walk, click here.

The theme of the event is ‘Dairy breeding for beef feeding’ which will be of great interest to both dairy farmers and those interested in rearing dairy bred stock.

Topics on the day will include, current farming system and financial performance, grassland management including red clover and multi species swards and winter feeding options for finishing and weanling animals.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to participate in a live forum, where an excellent panel of key industry stakeholders will give their views and opinions on current dairy calf to beef enterprises.

Chris Daly from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) will outline the new Commercial Beef Value’s (CBV) which can be used as a tool to select calves of higher quality potential at purchase.

Laurence Shalloo from Teagasc will discuss the future of the dairy industry with potential restrictions on calf exports and slaughtering, while Martin Kavanagh from Munster Bovine, will provide expert knowledge on animal health issues and animal housing requirements in the potential scenario where calves need to be kept on source farms longer.

Pat Collins, host farmer, will share his personal experiences in dairy calf to beef systems and Jonathan Forbes, Kepak will look at markets and the key specifications required for finishing animals.

Doreen Corridan, Munster Bovine will chair the forum providing an opportunity for all in attendance to ask the experts views on all things dairy calf-to-beef.

This farm walk and forum is free to attend and should be of great interest and provide excellent information to both dairy and beef farmers.