Castlewellan beef and sheep producer John Milligan is one of ten farmers participating in the Northern Ireland Suckler Beef Programme, an initiative designed to ‘fine tune’ efficiency and improve profitability.
From the outset the initiative was aiming for a target profit of £750 per hectare, but John Milligan has surpassed the challenge achieving a profit of £1,100 per hectare.
Farming almost 200 acres at the foot of Slieve Croob, the farm is in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty, and rises to almost 650 feet above sea level.
John, and son Joe, manage a herd of 78 suckler cows, a flock of 270 commercial ewes, and a dairy calf to beef enterprise.
They place strong emphasis on grassland management, and were crowned 2014 and 2016 winners of the Ulster Grassland Society’s beef and sheep award. They were named runner-up in the 2017 UGS Grassland Farmer of the Year competition.
The spring calving portion of the herd comprises of 60 cows, with the remainder calving in the autumn.
In 2012 John purchased a Simmental stock bull privately from Portglenone pedigree breeder Robin Boyd.
“Slievenagh Champion really caught my eye, displaying great conformation and tremendous growth as a yearling bull. Now five-years-old, he has matured into a well-muscled bull and is breeding well,” said John.
“He has a nice temperament, and we have retained semen for our own use.”
Slievenagh Champion is easy calving, and is ranked in the breed’s top 1% for eye muscle area +6. He is also in the top 10% for terminal production index +83, and top 5% for self replacing index +97.
“The Simmental is an excellent terminal sire and is proving to be an ideal cross on the Lim/Angus cows.
“The resulting progeny have great hybrid vigour and really thrive.
“In fact, the first two batches of Simmental calves were so impressive that we decided to retain the majority of the heifers as herd replacements.
“They are fertile, docile and have plenty of milk – all the attributes of a prolific suckler cow,” added John.
Over the past two years the Milligan’s have been able to increase the profitability of the already successful enterprise by selling surplus in-calf heifers. “The quality and fertility of our suckler herd has improved, and with less problem and cull cows, we are in a position to sell surplus heifers. There is a strong demand for the Simmental heifers.”
Spring-born male calves are finished as bullocks, while the autumn born calves are reared as bulls.
Steers are housed in September and fed ad lib silage and up to 6kgs of a finishing blend per head per day.
“We aim to have the steers off the farm by Christmas. They average 19.8 months at slaughter and achieve deadweights of 350kgs; while the bulls reach slaughter weights of 349kgs at 14.5 months of age. On average both the steers and bullocks are achieving R+3= grades,” concluded John.