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‘They are looking for roan heifers at the moment’ – 18-cow suckler farmer

Martin Shaughnessy, County Mayo, has streamlined both suckler and sheep enterprises by using AI, synchronisation and grassland management practices to suit his land base and off-farm employment commitments.

He keeps 18 suckler cows and replacement heifers, whilst farming a flock of 120 ewes and keeping replacement ewe lambs.

“I synchronise all of my sheep. I have 60-ewes lambing in February and 60 ewes lambing in March. Why do I synchronise? I am working as well in Aurivo Marts 2-3 days per week,” Martin told Catherine Egan on Teagasc’s Beef Edge podcast.

The Mayo-native’s cows are virtually all Limousin-bred with some Belgian Blue-Limousin-crosses throughout the herd also. Martin operates a 100% AI system, utilising Belgian Blue sires on most of his cows and Limousin bulls on heifers.

“My target market, using Belgian Blue AI, is the export market. A lot of my heifer calves would be sold to finishers, the export market and to people for breeding.”


Martin calves his herd from January 1st to the end of December, and he feels using all AI “makes it easier” to keep track of expected calving dates.

“This year, I think they were all calved by St. Patrick’s Day. I know exactly when my cows will calf so I can fit in my sheep in between, leaving more space in the shed.” the suckler and sheep farmer added.

The west of Ireland farmer acknowledged that compact calving has its advantages and disadvantages.

“When they are calving, after when you have to put them into creeps and things like that, that they are all the one age. I would not like it any tighter than it is. Spreading it [calving] out over 10-12 weeks helps; you need a lot of space.”

“It helps when you are matching up the calves again going out to grass; they are all the same size, within reason. I find there are fewer issues with scour and pneumonia when you have batches together.”

Benefits of AI 

Shaughnessy has been using AI on his farm for the last 20 years.

He felt being an 18-cow suckler farmer in the west of Ireland; it is not feasible to have a bull.

“Not all my cows would be suited to a Belgian Blue bull, so I use Limousin on them. It would not be beneficial to have two bulls going.”

“That is where I came in with the AI; I can select the bull to match it to the cow. It takes years of experience to know what suits the cow.”

“I would not be a believer of going down the route of too hard of calving, looking at around 12% calving difficulty.”

“The reliability should be fairly high. I like to get them around 80% or know what the sires are from originally, having a background on which the sires were bred from themselves.”

Heat detection

As Martin uses all AI, he utilised tail paint years ago but has since switched to a teaser bull.

“I put a chin ball on him once he goes out with the cows on to grass. At the moment, they are bulling. The cameras in the shed help because you can see cows coming into heat easily.”

“I try to get a few cows and heifers bulled before they go out [to grass] as many as I can. There is a certain number of cows that would not be AI’d at that stage.”

“I have a paddock system in place and a simple way with a temporary fence with a roadway to bring up cows. This makes it very simple; the cows are used to being moved around in a paddock system. It makes it easy to take away the cow and calf and bring her up for AI’ing.”

Paddock system

Martin feels he has a very high stocking rate for his land quanity, and strives to exploit its potential by using a paddock system.

“It makes it easier to work out with grass you have, and for AI’ing, it makes it easier to control your cows. They are a lot quieter being used to moving around.”

“When you are working on your own and have to manage on your own, a paddock system comes in there as well.”

“I have been creeping calves ahead of cows; I do not use a creep feeder here. You can graze out the paddocks a lot tighter if calves are going ahead of cows as well. I start feeding a small amount of meal in July and August up until September-October when I sell weanlings.” the suckler and sheep farmer added.

Targets for weanlings

Martin feels creep grazing, helps weanlings achieve an adequate weight gain, with minimum concentrate input, whilst also breaking the bond between suckler pairs.

“I try to get bull weanlings up to 380-420kg. That would be my target for heavy bulls born in January. They are usually sold in Balla Mart in September.”

“March calves then would be going in October. For the heifer weanling, with the Belgian Blues, there has been a market out there for coloured heifers. They are looking for roan heifers at the moment.”

“I would not put heifer weanlings up to the same weights, but if you got them up to around 280-350kg, farmers and exporters are there to buy them.”

Turning out stock

Martin’s land got slurry and urea, so he feels there is a nice pick of grass at the moment.

“With the weather conditions, the last few years, I have it in my head that no cows will go out until I have enough grass and ground conditions suit.”

“Luckily, the ground in the part of the west I am in is fairly dry compared to other parts of the west. I like to get them out as early as I can.”

“I like to let younger calves and replacement heifers out first, the lighter stock. There will only be a few going out until the ground conditions clear up.”

“I do not believe in putting them out and having to bring them in as well. Ewes are just about able to manage the ground at the moment; do not mind the cows,” Martin concluded.

Further information

You can listen to this episode of the Beef Edge podcast.

More farming tips and advice.

Are you a suckler and sheep farmer? To share your story, email – [email protected] 

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