Cattle and sheep farming in the land of stone walls –

William John Fitzmaurice is a suckler and sheep farmer based between Athleague and Four Roads in County Roscommon.

He farms with the help of his son James, who also works off the farm, but has a keen interest in livestock and grassland management.

When Agriland Visited the farm in February, the Fitzmaurices were in the process of restoring the stone walls of the farmhouse with the help of a local stonemason.

The agricultural business is beef cattle with a large herd of mid-season lambing ewes.

In recent years, William explained that he has brought more of his weaned calves down to beef, while lambs are finished on the farm each year.

The type of cow on the farm is primarily a continental cross Shorthorn.

William explained: “I’m looking for a docile, dual purpose cow who will sire a beautiful, well formed, colorful calf that would sell well in store or weaning and whose offspring are fairly easy to butcher if they go to the factory.

The suckler herd is made up of spring calves only and starts at the end of January.

The cows calve on a straw bed and when the calves get a little stronger they are moved to the slatted barn. There they have access to a creep area covered with rubber calf slats provided by EasyFix.

William explained: “We used to lay the calves on straw until last year when we put in rubber slats for the calves. The veal slats were a big hit here. The calves stay dry on the rubber slats and seem to be quite happy lying on them in the creep zone.

During the breeding season, a stockbull is used on cows and artificial insemination (AI) on heifers. However, last year a Limousin bull was purchased which will also cover heifers this year.

William explained: “Our land is fragmented and sometimes heifer heats can go unnoticed, so the stockbull will be raced with them this year.”

When selecting a bull, William explained, “I’m looking for a bull with good length, good width and a short head. He should be well muscled, well balanced overall and not too tall.

With the system currently in place at the farm, heifers are finished and sent to a local beef processor and males are kept and finished as bulls under 24 months old.

“For the past few years we had no steers, we sold them all as bull steer,” William said.

“I think there is a place for bull beef in the future, especially with all the talk around slaughter age.

“The animal is about nine months younger around the farm and I would be happy with how the prices are right now.

“The bulls are housed in the last days of July and are sent to a local factory before October 20, generally. I get most of the bulls weight off the grass and they are finished in the shed with concentrates.

William added that fattening cattle is the system that currently works best for him and noted that he used to sell all his weaned cattle. He added that farmers should always choose the farming system that works best for them and “not what someone else is doing”.

The sheep business

Lambing takes place mainly outdoors and begins at the end of February.

Commenting on the free-range lambing option, William said “it doesn’t suit all farms, but it suits us here”.

The ewes are confined to bare pens for the winter and are fed silage and concentrates using a sheep snacker.

William added that the most important thing in an outdoor system is “at lambing time the ewes are left on good grass cover”.

“If they have grass under them during lambing, it acts as a cushion when the lambs are born and the grass keeps the lambs slightly off the ground which helps them stay dry.”

“I let them in on the grass which was closed in early October. We have four good sheltered fields, which are generally used for this purpose.

“There are clumps of shrubs growing on these fields and although it may look like a waste of land, it works for us as it provides excellent shelter for the ewes when they lamb.”


Over the past few years, William and James have focused on soil nutrition and grass improvement.

Much of the farm has recently been reseeded and four different methods were used:

  • Plow and rotary harrow;
  • rotative Harrow;
  • Heavy disc;
  • Agriseeder.

“We found the agricultural seeder worked the best on our farm,” William said.

“It was completed by Keaveaney Agri, Glenamaddy, Co. Galway, and we hope to do more in the future.”

“With the Agriseder we sprayed out of the field and had grass again in four weeks.”

grass measurement

Measuring grass is a relatively new venture on the farm and William admitted he was a bit apprehensive about it at first.

“My son James started measuring grass on the farm and initially I didn’t see the point of it,” he said.

“It turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. I would recommend measuring the grass and I think more dry cattle farmers should try it.”

William said that by measuring grass, the farm was able to grow more grass and identify underperforming paddocks that are growing very little grass and need attention.

“Some farmers say you can’t beat meal, well I find you can beat meal if you have grass,” he added.

Pasture and silage

Most of the farm is divided into 2ha paddocks and the ewes and lambs graze them first, followed by suckler cows and calves.

Silage is made for beef cattle from excess grass grown in the paddocks and the Fitzmaurices aim to make silage above 75% dry matter digestibility (DMD) for young animals.

An area of ​​land is designated for making silage for dry suckler cows on the farm and it is allowed to grow into a larger crop.

Going forward, William and James aim to further improve the growth of their weed and the quality of the suckling offspring produced on the farm.

In conclusion, William added, “I would always encourage young people to get into farming because it’s a great way of life. Young smallholders with an interest in land can still get part-time employment and find the farming system that works best for them.

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