The 2022 Irish Grassland Association (IGA) Beef Event will take place in Ballyhale, Co. Kilkenny, on the suckler farm of Jimmy Madigan, next Tuesday (June 14).

This year’s event will take place completely on-farm and will kick off at a later time of 6:30p.m.

Event attendees will be treated to food before the walk commences at 7:00p.m, and will hear an opening address from IGA president Christy Watson.

This year’s host farm consists of tillage, forestry and 76ha of grassland. It is home to a herd of 100 autumn and spring-calving cows and their followers.

Jimmy and his wife Ann-Marie are the only labour units on the holding, with plenty of help coming in the years ahead from their four children: Hannah, Jim, Kate and Eddie.


The cows and heifers calve from December to March, and from August to September each year.

Replacement heifers are sired by a maternal Charolais stockbull and are chosen from the crop of autumn-born calves. The remaining progeny are aimed to be finished at 19-20 months.

Males are brought to beef in an under-16-month finishing system; additional bought-in bulls are also finished in the same system.

Jimmy moved away from steer beef in 2017 in order to grow the breeding herd on the farm, as the under-16-month bull system leads to bulls being wintered for one season only.

Furthermore, a good relationship with a dairy-farming neighbour allows Jimmy to purchase several Limousin dairy-cross yearling heifers each year, which he calves down in the autumn time to the maternal Charolais stockbull. Heifers obtained here will enter his spring-calving herd.

He also uses Limousin artificial insemination (AI) on his home-bred heifers and these calve in the springtime – provided all goes to plan. Two terminal Charolais stockbulls are run with the spring herd during the breeding season.

While this breeding strategy may differ from the norm, it is something that has worked well for Jimmy down through the years.

In 2021, Jimmy’s calving interval stood at 369 days, with an impressive 0.9 calves/cow/year.

Suckler cows

For Jimmy, focusing on suckler cows that have an ample supply of milk to feed their calves and utilising as much grass as possible has always been the key to success.

The suckler herd is grazed in an 18-paddock system – operating in a ‘grow in three weeks, eat in three days’ system.

The paddocks are serviced by excellent roadways which make the route to pasture as labour-free as possible. With an early turnout in spring, he takes advantage of the long grazing season prior to weaning.

Pre-weaning, spring-born bulls are creep fed, while heifers are fed no meal. Bulls are then housed in November; however, heifers return to grass and are grazed until weather forces housing.

In 2021, the males had an average daily gain (ADG) to 200 days of age of 1.32kg/day, while their heifer comrades had an ADG of 1.2kg/day.


While grazed grass is Jimmy’s number one priority during the growing season, excellent-quality silage is also harvested to ensure high growth rates during the winter and finishing period.

He maintains that without excellent-quality grass silage, the under-16-month bull system would be hard to operate.

Last year’s silage crop came back at 76% dry matter digestibility when tested, allowing the weanlings to achieve a 0.54kg/day growth rate for the first two months of housing.

Regular weighing complements the beef system and once bulls hit the target weight of 480kg, they are then moved into the finishing regime.

In terms of slaughter, the 2021-killed bulls had an average carcass weight of 425kg, while the heifers averaged 347kg – with 89% of the feed coming from grass or grass silage.

To achieve this top-quality silage, Jimmy harvests his own silage with a mower, tedder, baler and wrapper.

The same land is never cut year-on-year and ground earmarked for silage is grazed off early in the year, with 2,500 gallons/ac of slurry applied.

At the start of March, chemical fertiliser is applied, and once the weather allows in May, it is harvested.

Reseeding – along with keeping soil fertility at optimal levels – has also played a pivotal role on the farm over the years, with most of the grassland reseeded in the last decade.

Jimmy is now ready to explore the different options available when it comes optimising nitrogen efficiency and plans to sow clover this spring.

He believes that for suckler-to-beef farming to be successful, there is a menu of criteria that must come together – number one being grass and top-quality silage.

He also highlights adequate facilities, especially with a bull-finishing system, and a fertile, milky cow that can produce and rear a calf every year.