On the Wicklow/Carlow border near Kiltegan is Ciaran Harmon, a suckler farmer operating a split-calving herd.
On a recent visit to the farm, Ciaran told Agriland that himself and his family are farming 150ac – 90ac of which is owned and the other 60ac rented.
His parents are at home full-time and Ciaran’s wife, Olivia, and their three children – Jamie, Ciaran and Scott – all lend a helping hand on the farm when needed.
The top-quality weanlings produced on the farm are a true testament to the Harmon’s exceptional attention to detail on cow type and sire.
Ciaran’s split-calving suckler herd consists of 85 continental-type cows. Approximately 35 of these are autumn-calving cows, while the remaining 50 cows are spring calvers.
The farm has been in the suckler business for approximately 18 years now and its foundation cows were primarily Limousin.
On the farm, spring calving begins in January with the last of the cows calving in April.
For the past five or six years, Ciaran has been using a Limousin and Charolais bull and is happy with the progeny they produce.
He plans to bring in some Simmental genetics with good milk traits to his replacement heifers, in an effort to further improve his herd’s genetics.
All bulls are sold on the farm as weanlings and Ciaran aims to get them into weights ranging from 400-500kg.
Heifers which are not being kept as replacements are sold as stores or finished as beef and sold to a local beef factory.
Weather permitting, cows and calves go to grass from March 15, onward. Ciaran prefers to let cows out to grass in small numbers, then gradually add more as conditions improve.
Autumn calvers are housed in late-October and beef cattle are housed in early December.
As the land type would be considered dry ground, it allows for a longer grazing season than in areas with softer ground.
Commenting on his split-calving strategy, Ciaran said that his autumn-born weanlings tend to come into more money, but that they are a lot more costly to produce. However, he said the split-calving strategy takes the pressure off in the spring.
“It’s just the system that works for us,” he said.
Cows are fed good-quality silage and spring barley straw when housed, and there is no diet feeder used on the farm.
Ciaran strongly believes in feeding cows minerals at least six weeks prior to calving.
Silage ground is closed, at the latest, by March 1, and Ciaran aims to cut silage in late May/early June.
Meal feeding to cows is virtually zero on the farm and autumn calvers may sometimes be supplemented with fodder beet during the breeding season.
Cows are on a vaccination programme which Ciaran believes is hugely beneficial in avoiding scour in calves.
“A lot of people would say I’m mad for the type of cow I’m running here – big 700kg plus cows. At the moment they’re paying the bills here so I don’t hope to change a huge amount in the cow type,” Ciaran said.
When selecting a stockbull Ciaran aims for a bull with a good visual appearance, and a bull with stars also.
For more stories like this, take a look at the Agriland Beef Focus section.