FARM SMART: Juggling a full-time job and a purebred Limousin herd in Co. Laois

For the second instalment of the ‘Farm Smart’ series, we travelled to Rathdowney, Co. Laois, where Brian Campion and his father, Ger, run a herd of predominately purebred Limousin cows under a spring and autumn-calving system.

The farm consists of 80ac and – of this – 66ac are allocated to grassland for the Limousin herd, while the remaining land is used for tillage.

Approximately 35 Limousin cows make up the herd, with 80% purebred, while the remainder are run as commercials.

The farm was transferred to Brian five years ago and – since then – it has undergone many changes. The Laois-based farmer also works full-time off farm, and this is the main reason for these improvements in infrastructure.

“We have invested a lot in terms of facilities to set the farm up so it can be ran by one person.

“I’m working full-time, so I rely on my father to do the day-to-day tasks – especially in the winter time when it comes to feeding cattle and handling the stock,” Brian explained.

To make the management of the herd easier, the decision was made to construct a new slatted house, which is home to the autumn-calving herd and their calves during the winter period.

The entire shed can hold approximately 25 cows and is equipped with a straw lie-back area for the progeny.

“Generally, we put the autumn-calving herd in there so it makes the management of the cows and calves easy and it is also easy when it comes to breeding.”

Since taking over the reins of the farm, Brian has also made major improvements in grassland management. The addition of a paddock system has allowed the herd to be managed a lot easier, while – at the same – improving the quality of the sward.

“We also invested in paddocks in recent years; we have added paddocks every year up to this year and that has made the management of stock a lot easier.

“So, from that point of view, the running of the farm is pretty easy; one person can do most of the tasks in a safe way,” he explained.

In addition to the changing infrastructure, Brian also turned to technology to simplify the running of the farm. After piloting the Herdwatch app on a trial basis, it is now an important tool on the farm.

Brian is involved in Bord Bia’s Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme (SBLAS) and, initially, used the Herdwatch app to record remedies and movements.

“Since we started using the app, it has definitely made the whole operation much more streamlined. We can record – on the spot – when it comes to dosing; we also use it for movement purposes when we sell bulls and when we are registering calves.”

In addition, the Campions also use the app when it comes to weighing their cattle; Brian outlined that there are many benefits.

“Generally, we weigh the younger stock – in the grazing season – every six weeks, so we record it live as they cross the scales.

“You can see immediately whether an animal has done 0.5/kg/day or 1kg/day, so it can alert you to under performance or a worm burden or a poor milkier in terms of the cow.

“Within the app, I can go through the history of an animal, so I know what worm dose they got the last time, how long ago it was and – from that – I can look at alternating the wormers,” he added.

Brian also uses the app from a breeding perspective. The Limousin breeder uses it to track what cows were served and when; he can also track repeats.

“I get a notification on ‘watchboard’ during the breeding season of what cows are due their first serve or due a repeat. Similarly, with AI, I can record – on the spot – when an animal is inseminated and I can also log details when it comes to scanning it in terms of weeks in pregnancy.

“That generates a calving report in the springtime or in the autumn, so I can see the list of cows that are calving and when.”

Brian identified the app as a major time-saving tool when it comes to managing his herd and would recommend it for anyone that is part-time farming.