Shane Keaveney: Why I took the 16-month bull route

I farm full time just outside of Ballinlough, Co Roscommon. I am married to Grainne, a registered nurse, and we have three children: Aaron, Neil and Annie. The size of the farm is 27.5 ha and is divided into three blocks.

Overall, the farm is of a heavy nature, with a mixture of clay and peat soils. In recent years I have built up the herd to 35 suckler cows, which is the planned maximum.

My system is simple and fits the farm as all male calves are finished as bull beef under 16 months, while heifers are slaughtered off grass or sold as stock.

The cow type consists mainly of Limousin-Saler crosses and calving begins in the first week of February.

I want to get the calving over quickly and finish it in the first week of April. I find that when the calving period is short, I can only focus on this work. Watching and fencing cows takes the same amount of time as looking at a cow.

Also, the calves are very consistent and can be treated as a group when it comes to dosing/weaning etc.

It is important to me that every cow has a calf every 365 days to have a chance to benefit from suckling.


Some of Shane’s cows and calves

Over the years I have used a Saler bull who has given me highly genetic, functional and high milking cows, but the male offspring have been difficult to sell in the markets.

So, five years ago, I decided to go down the 16-month bull road.

Rising food prices are raising some doubts about Bullen’s option for next year, but I don’t have to decide before Christmas and will check later in the year.

I also calve my heifers when they are two years old. The best heifers are kept as replacements and this year there are 12 heifers to bull.

All these heifers weigh 390-400 kg in early May. I don’t have to keep 12, but I will sell some pregnant ones next spring.

There is a Charolais bull that walks with the cows and this year I decided to use AI on the heifers. I got a vasectomized bull with a jawbone for heat detection and kept the heifers in a field next to the farm.

I have chosen to use sexed semen for the heifers to have replacements for next year. The Limousin bull Lennox was used because he calves easily.

Seven quickly came into heat and were spayed once. Two of them repeated and got another straw. Five didn’t come into heat though, so I used a PRID to get them into the calf. Nothing else has happened to this day.

These heifers will be scanned in early July and any empties will be added to the storage heifers and sold at a later date.

The bull was released to the cows on April 28th and will be removed after 12 weeks to keep the calving period short. Last time I saw him active was May 28th so looks like February and March will be full again next year.

June is a relatively quiet month. So far the year has been very benign with good dry spells and rain when needed. I cut silage the last week of May and closed another 26ac for the second cut.

As part of the Future Beef program, great emphasis is placed on better use of grass. I’ve been part of a weed focus group for the past several years.

There are great benefits in meeting monthly to discuss any grassland issues that arise. At our last meeting we visited a farm that had established a multispecies and red clover shave last year.

The interest in the topics was great in view of the increased fertilizer prices. I’ve already started changing practices to reduce the total amount of fertilizer used.

I use more manure. Last week I used the trail and shoe system to apply manure to low layers of grass, ie 4 cm. This replaced a round of fertilizer.

In fact, I haven’t spread fertilizer on the pasture platform since late April, but I need to spread 20 units of protected urea/ac over the next week.

At the end of the month we booked a family vacation. It will be great to get away and recharge the batteries. Shane Keaveney: Why I took the 16-month bull route

Fry Electronics Team

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