Maguiresbridge suckler farmer, Stephen Maguire, who farms at Congo, Maguiresbridge, recently hosted a farm walk for members of Fermanagh Grassland Club.

Stephen participates in the Northern Ireland Suckler Beef Programme which is co-ordinated by Kieran Mailey, the NI adviser.

Some 60 members of the Club attended the farm walk, despite the poor weather conditions.

Stephen farms 46 hectares divided in two blocks, with 25 hectares of owned ground and a further 21 hectares of rented land, about one milk from the main farm. He stocks this with 51 spring calving suckler cows with a further 12 in-calf heifers. The cows are Simmental and Limousin cross mated with A.I. Simmental sires and a Charolais stock bull. His stocking rate is 1.6 livestock units per hectare or 1676kg liveweight per hectare.

It is a suckler to weaning system with some heifers sold for breeding.

He has been looking at four main areas to improve the farm, including sward improvement, tightening the calving pattern, using better grazing management such as creep grazing and adopting a two-year-old calving system. Daily liveweight gains were 1.42kg per day last summer and 1.36kgs per day this summer.

Stephen has adopted min-till sward rejuvenation during 2011. He demonstrated that the total costs of spray, sub soiling, drilling grass, buying the grass seed and spreading fertiliser and lime, amounted to �158 per acre.

A rotational grazing system is adopted on the farm with cows and groups in two groups; with silage made in one cut on an outfarm and grazed afterwards. Grazing paddocks that become too strong are baled.

Over the past few years, Stephen has pulled the calving index back to 366 days from 393 days in 2010.

He has also improved animal performance with the use of grass. More calves born in early spring increased liveweight and more liveweight was achieved from grass, reducing concentrates by eight tonnes. The average sale weight of bull calves in 2011 was 348kg with the average sale price of �1.89 per kg. Heifer calves sold for �1.97 per kg during 2011 with average weights of 367kgs.

The value of early calving such as January/February is shown in the calf weights at housing. January/February born calves weighed 401kgs at housing in October last while those born in March weighed just 321kgs at housing. The breed also plays a part in performance in his herd. Charolais bred bull calves achieved 1.34kg/day DLWG compared with Simmental at 1.32kgs/day DLWG.

Stephen is moving his herd from 36 months calving to 24 months calving to increase herd profit. Analysis has shown lower rearing costs in a 24 months calving system by around �160 per head.

The heaviest costs for a 36 months calving system is the winter keep beyond the 24 months period.

The N I Suckler Beef Programme is a three-year programme to improve the profitability, as well as the viability, of their suckler herds and the gross margin of (GM) �750/ha was set as a target to be achieved at the end of the programme.

The main emphasis for the individual farms is to increase herd output through increased technical efficiency from better grassland management and improved herd fertility. Ideally this should be achieved by controlling variable costs.