‘Last year silage quality would have slipped and I paid the price in feeding meal’

Co. Roscommon based farmer Martin Connolly – a participant in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme – purchases dairy calves and brings them through to slaughter as bulls under 22 months-of-age.

The scale of the operation has increased with the expanding national dairy herd and 100-120 Friesian calves are purchased every year.

When it comes to sourcing the Friesian bull calves, Martin does so from three-to-four dairy farmers where he has built up good relationships over the years.

By doing so, he knows the health status of the dairy herd and he can be confident that the calf has received an adequate amount of colostrum, and this will reduce the risk of introducing disease onto the farm.

“I’m lucky I buy off local dairy farmers; I’ve been dealing with them for a good number of years. I’m also lucky I get good healthy stock off them. They are well looked after from birth and that’s a great start,” Martin explains in the video (below).

“The other thing too, by buying local, they haven’t to travel too far; they’re only 10-15 minutes away and they are always in good form when they come in,” he added.

Vaccination programme

When the calves arrive on farm, they are allowed to settle – in straw-bedded pens – before being introduced to milk replacer and concentrate; fresh, clean water is also applied.

From there, a vaccination programme is implemented for protection against pneumonia and IBR; they are also vaccinated against clostridial diseases down the line.

“This is the first year we have followed through with the vaccination programme. They get their first shot for pneumonia, they get their intranasal against IBR, and then – later on – they get their shots for clostridial disease.

“From vaccinating this year, it has absolutely changed our dependence on antibiotics,” he added.

Once calves are weaned they are turned out to pasture, with meal feeding continuing for a time. Martin aims to keep good-quality grass ahead of the stock, moving cattle regularly in a paddock system.

Silage quality

While Martin – who works as an agricultural contractor off-farm – always made strides to cut silage mid-May, over the past two years, silage ground was grazed late into spring which resulted in fertiliser being applied too late and pushing out the closing date.

As it turns out, with the silage date pushed out until late June, the weather went against Martin in both 2018 and 2019, resulting in poorer-quality silage for his dairy calf-to beef operation.

“The last couple of years I would have slipped a little, and I would have paid the price in terms of feeding meal.

This year, I concentrated on having an early cut. So, we grazed in the backend with some of the lighter weanlings and we got slurry out in January,” he added.

Pastures earmarked for silage received 100 units of nitrogen (N) at the end of March and the crop was mowed on May 11.

Post-harvest, 2,500 gallons/ac of slurry were spread followed by 70-80 units of N; this second cut has been harvested since the above video was shot.

“I will have very good silage in for this winter. We have surplus silage bales too from paddocks throughout the grazing season and I’m happy we have plenty of silage in stock for this winter.

“It should save an awful lot on meal feeding for the finishing bulls and weanlings over the winter,” he concluded.