27 Apr, 2021

Suckler and Beef Farming - Making a Simple System Work

Finding a system that works for your farm can be difficult, but Trevor and his father Joe have found one that works for them. Trevor Boland, a Suckler and Beef farmer from Co. Sligo, shared his story in our recent Irish Farm Report 2021.

When it comes to making a suckler and beef farm generate a profit, there is no magic formula. With many farms operating on a part-time basis, finding a system that works for you can be difficult. One farmer who has found a successful system is Trevor Boland who manages a suckler and beef farm in partnership with his father Joe and also works in ifac’s Sligo office.

Trevor operates an autumn calving system, calving continental cows from August to October. The breeds include Charolais, Limousin, Angus and Salers. The aim is to calve all cows outside, starting on 1 August. The benefits of this are that there is less need for housing, it provides a clean environment for births, better diet for cows and a good supply of grass for calves. However, there are disadvantages if a cow needs assistance so having a yard and calving gate close by with easy access is necessary. For safety reasons, access to a yard is also needed to tag calves.

All calves are measured and weighed at birth, and the data recorded is added to the ICBF database. The cows, retained outside, graze through a paddock system until housing on the October bank holiday weekend. AI starts on 15 October, with the majority of cows showing signs of heat before this date. Bull weanlings are sold to a beef finisher at 10-12 months, while heifer weanlings are either retained for breeding, finished on-farm, or sold as breeding heifers. Trevor aims to calve heifers at two years old to reduce the carrying cost and housing space required on the farm.

Grassland management plays a significant role in the farm operation and delivers a high output system without any additional time requirements. The entire farm is paddock grazed, with just four groups of stock grazing during the summer months. This system reduces the amount of time that has to be spent on the farm and means that jobs such as vaccinating, dosing, weighing and de-horning can all be done in one go.

Weekly grass measuring walks are carried out and the data recorded on the PastureBase grass measuring tool. This enables Trevor to grow and manage as much grass as possible during the year and avoid running short during slow growth periods.

Live weighing of cattle on the farm is also a big part of farm management. Monthly weighing of weanlings and stores at grass during the finishing period and cows at various time throughout the year gives an essential indication of live weight gains, which is what the beef farmer is selling.

All data is analysed regularly throughout the year, with improvements made where possible. A key goal is to continuously improve on previous performance; this includes regularly reviewing what is working and what is not.

From grassland management to breeding and herd health, livestock performance, and financial performance, no one element creates a successful suckler and beef farm. Each aspect needs attention to achieve financial success.

Trevor and Joe also have a store-to-beef operation, buying Angus and Limousin weanling heifers in the spring and bringing them to finish the following autumn, using a grass-based system which avoids winter finishing.

  • 45 ha Area farmed

  • 2.2 lu/ha Stocking Rate

  • Autumn calving suckler cows. 20 Bulls sold at one year old

  • Heifer replacements reared on farm AA Weanling to Beef enterprise Grass grown 2020 13 tonne DM/ha €urostar Replacement index €117