Getting fertiliser out on silage ground in Co. Meath

Located in Antylstown, Navan, Co. Meath, Aidan Maguire’s farm stretches across 60ha, with the land broken into two blocks – one parcel is 40ha (owned) in size, while a further 20ha is leased a short distance away.

Aidan with the help of his son Luke – who is studying in Ballyhaise Agricultural College – farms 46ha of grassland and 14ha of poorer-quality land is devoted to forestry.

The Meath man runs a dairy calf-to-beef enterprise on the holding in conjunction with a contracting business and his services include, but are not limited to: mowing; baling; and wrapping.

Prior to rearing and selling dairy calves as forward stores, Aidan operated a tillage enterprise along with keeping a herd of suckler cows.

However, in 1999, due to a heavy workload with low returns, he decided to cut back on cow numbers, quit tillage and operate a calf-to-store enterprise.

Before Aidan entered the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme, between 100 and 110 Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Friesian calves would be purchased each year. In years gone by, calves were sourced locally and from further afield.

The Angus and Hereford calves were kept on the farm until they reached 20 months, while the Friesian calves were sold at 18 months-of-age; all cattle were sold as forward stores.

But this spring, the majority of the 75 calves purchased were Angus and Hereford sourced from local dairy farmers within a five-to-10 minute journey.

The plan from here on in is to bring all steers and heifers to slaughter – steers at 24 months and heifers slightly earlier. Some of the forward stores were sold recently, while the remainder will be sold in the coming weeks to boost cash flow.

This will leave 75 calves; 14 bullocks; 39 heifers; and a batch of spring 2018 yearlings that will be finished and slaughtered off the farm.

The lower number of calves purchased this year will allow for better management, with an improved focus on each individual calf; a new calf house was constructed last year.

In addition, as Aidan is now finishing his stock, the calf house and lower calf numbers provide adequate housing space.

However, while the farmyard is well set up in terms of buildings for the number of calves and cattle on the farm at present, going forward more winter accommodation may be needed in order to increase stocking rate (currently stocked at 2.02LU/ha) and ultimately kilograms of beef produced off the farm.

Calves arrive on the farm at three weeks-of-age and are fed on a once-a-day (OAD) system. They are started on calf muesli before moving onto a calf nut.

Weaning will take place in the coming days, with the first batch of purchased calves close to the target of 90-100kg. Moreover, yearlings were dosed against clostridial diseases with Tribovax10.

Commenting on his calves, Aidan said: “My calf prices this year are back approximately €50/head for Angus, Hereford and the odd Friesian.

“I have good relationships with the dairy farmers and I’ll see how the Hereford and Angus calves perform; they are shaping up well at the moment.”

A number of autumn-born calves were purchased last November and this is something that Aidan may explore as it will help spread cash flow.

Grassland

Surrounded by dairy farms, Aidan outlined that he has learned from these farmers and has a paddock system in place for over 15 years.

These paddocks are 4-5ac and with the help of both his local Teagasc advisor Donal McCabe and programme advisor David Argue, these paddocks will be split in half with temporary fencing.

Aidan operates a strip-grazing system and allocates fresh grass daily to his cattle. For the first time, the Meath-based farmer has started grass measuring, something which he says will give him more confidence when making decisions on the grazing platform.

As Aidan has the machinery, taking surplus paddocks out for bales is an easy task providing a high-quality winter feed for his stock. This will be very beneficial now that he is running a finishing system, helping to reach a target of 0.6-0.7kg/day over the winter period.

Encouragingly for Aidan, soil samples taken from the farm indicate a pH of 6.8 and soils are in index 4 for both phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

Given these indices, earlier in the spring, silage ground received 77 units of nitrogen (N) per acre and slurry; this was then grazed until April 9.

On April 20, 46 units N/ac were spread on this ground and it was closed for silage; this will be harvested as close to May 27 as possible.

The future

Touching on the Teagasc Green Acres Programme, he said: “My local Teagasc advisor Donal McCabe suggested it to me and Luke intends to farm similar to what I’m at so, I thought it would be a great way of getting a broader knowledge.

“I’m hoping that the programme will direct me so that we can see the direction that we travelled, where we made our mistakes and what worked; rather than doing the same every year and hoping for the best,” he concluded.