Increasing grass growth
The aim is to increase grass growth in line with an increase in stocking rate. Significant improvements were made to the farm’s infrastructure in early 2015 in order to achieve this. Adam Woods, Teagasc, explains new paddocks have been erected in the main block of land at a cost of €0.80/m for treated posts (tanilised) and a high-tensile strand of electric wire with two strands erected in some areas at a cost of €1.00/m. New water troughs were installed in the centre of permanent divisions, allowing paddocks to be temporarily divided and give better control of grassland management during peak grass growth. Three hectares of this area have also been reseeded in 2014.
Similar improvements have been made in the heavier block of land, with about half the area reseeded and paddocked. The plan is to reseed the other half in 2016 and this will be dependent on grass supplies available. As part of land improvement on this block, the water system will be upgraded to allow the installation of four new drinkers which in turn will facilitate a new paddock system to be erected. Given the number of animals on this block, new cattle handling facilities were also required and were erected in August 2015. This will allow easier administration of health treatments and also facilitate regular weighing to monitor performance.
As mentioned earlier, cow type in the herd is mainly Angus crosses from the dairy herd with some first-cross Hereford cows. A high percentage of cows were sourced well in advance of transferring to Athenry and had their second calf in 2015. Their average weight in November was 511kg, with a body condition score (BCS) of 2.95. There was a weight range of 450kg to 600kg, with cow weight likely to increase as cows mature. First-calvers had an average weight of 439kg and an average BCS of 2.26. Animals will be grouped in the coming week on BCS and fed accordingly. Silage quality is detailed in Table 1. Cows requiring a maintenance diet will be fed second-cut silage while those needing to gain condition will receive higher quality first-cut silage.
Ambitious targets for Newford Herd
The recently launched Newford Suckler Demonstration Farm is coming towards the end of its first year. The 100-cow herd aims to establish a profitable suckler-to-beef enterprise for steers and heifers, using first-cross Angus and Hereford cows from the dairy herd. The production system is spring-calving with heifers and steers finished off grass at 18 to 20 months of age.
A central focus in the herd is achieving maximum output from a grass-based system. The farm, located in Newford, Athenry, Co Galway, in land previously operated by Teagasc, is laid out in three divisions. The main block of land in Newford is dry, good-quality grassland comprising about 26.72ha (66 acres). This area will be used for grazing suckler cows and calves. The second division (located across from the Raheen Woods hotel) is also good-quality dry land comprising 15.51ha (38.3 acres) and is located about a mile away (by road) from the main block. This area will be used to graze yearlings early in the year before closing for two cuts of silage. It will also be used late in the year to reduce grass demand on the two grazing blocks by grazing finishing animals (18-20-month heifers or steers). The last block, comprising 13.57ha (33.53 acres) is about a mile away in the other direction. It is heavier in nature and will be used to graze steer and heifer followers in their second grazing season.
The success of the farm is dependent on growing and utilising very high volumes of grass over a long grazing season. When up and running at full stocking rate in 2016/2017, the farm will be stocked at 2.7LU/ha (100 cows, 100 calves and 100 followers). To put the scale of the challenge into perspective, the farm will need to grow in the region of 13t DM/ha. On the block of land carrying steer and heifer followers, grass growth will need to be sufficient to sustain a very high stocking rate of 3,000kg/ha (grow enough grass to utilise 13t DM/ha) over the main grazing season or on a daily basis grow 60kg DM/ha on average over the grazing season.
2015 progeny were sired by three Limousin sires, THZ, ZGP and S1427, or a five-star Simmental or Charolais stock bull. The high milk yield of cows and good grassland management was a key driver in weanling performance, with bull calves gaining 1.25kg/day since birth with an average weight of 326kg. Heifer calves had an average weight of 315kg, gaining 1.19kg since birth. A lower stocking rate allowed replacement heifers that were contract-reared to weaning to be transferred to the Newford herd. These heifers weighed 237kg with an average daily gain of 0.79kg since birth. These animals will be prioritised for early turnout in spring to help reach target mating weight for the herd at 15 months of age (320kg to 330kg). The group are looking at ways of contract rearing their replacements up to the point of calving to ensure the Newford system is kept very simple
Weanlings will be carried over the winter on the best quality silage while available, with bulls supplemented with 2kg and heifers 1.5kg concentrates until early January when feeding rates will be reduced in advance of turnout.
The herd was synchronised in 2015 but with a conception rate of 37% failed to hit the targets set. A contributor to lower than expected performance could be tight grass supplies and cows under more nutritional stress than liked. Performance recovered after this with the nine-week scanning rate increasing (from the six-week scanning rate of 56 out of 89 cows scanned in calf) to 75 out of 89. The 12-week scanning rate was 82 cows in-calf from 89 cows, with Adam Woods identifying a few cows falling out of the herd for reasons such as mastitis, late calving and one hurt cow.
The breeding plan for 2016 will follow a similar format of AI for six to nine weeks followed by cleaning up with stock bulls. The same criteria will remain for selecting AI sires with calving difficulty set at less than 6% at greater than 80% reliability, five stars on the replacement index and greater than 25kg carcase weight.
As briefly discussed at the outset, the target for the herd is to operate at a high stocking rate of 2.7LU/ha. This is critical to achieving high carcase output, especially when steers and heifers are being slaughtered off grass at 18 to 20 months. With only a very small level of sales in 2015, the herd is not expected to return a margin. However, as it gets up and running the target is to return a gross margin of €700 in 2016, €800 in 2017, €1,000 in 2018 and in excess of €1,100/ha in 2019. Increasing the carcase weight of steers from under 300kg average in 2015 to shy of 350kg in 2019 and heifer carcase weight from 280kg to 310kg will be central to hitting targets set.
The project is being run by Dawn Meats, Teagasc and the Irish Farmers Journal, with McDonald’s Ireland also providing backing to the initiative. Dawn Meats will operate the farm, providing the financial backing for the herd with Matthew Murphy installed as the farm’s manager.
Declan Keely and Sarah Haire of Dawn Meats will work closely with Matthew. James Keane will lead the Teagasc involvement in the herd while Michael Fagan, Teagasc, will provide technician input in collecting and collating data from the farm. Padraig French, Teagasc, and Darren Carty, Irish Farmers Journal, are the other members of the management team.
Matthew will have responsibility for day-to-day running of the farm with all machinery work, including fertiliser spreading, silage feeding, cleaning of straw bedded sheds etc, contracted. Establishing the labour requirement is also a key objective with the labour input of Matthew and any occasional staff hired in all accounted for.
Regular updates will be provided on the website and the Irish Farmers Journal in print and online. The farm will also be hosting opening days for students, discussion groups and the public with dates confirmed in early 2016 and detailed on the farm’s website.
2015 Grass Performance
Grass growth up until the end of September was approximately 9,076kg DM/ha (7,426kg DM/ha grazing and 1,650kg DM/ha silage). Adam Woods, Teagasc estimates that the farm will finish up growing 11t DM/ha for 2015. Grass is measured on a weekly basis with growth rates recorded in the Teagasc Pasturebase System. Measuring growth rates and carrying out a weekly grass budget also put the farm in a position to make 122 round bales of high-quality silage from surpluses developing over the course of the grazing season.
All stock are currently housed. Cows were housed on 1 November as planned, with finishing animals and weanlings around the same time frame. It was hoped to extend the grazing season for replacement heifers, with 1.5ha earmarked for grazing. However, with weather conditions deteriorating rapidly in the last two weeks, animals had to be housed before this area could be grazed.
The farm is in a good position for early spring grazing, with the first paddocks closed in early October. There is currently an average farm cover of 850kg DM/ha which is on target for a turnout date of 20 February onwards for yearlings and cows calving.
Newford Herd Open Day 25th May
The Newford Herd officially opens to the public with an open day on Wednesday, 25th May. Attendees on the day will get the opportunity to view the stock on display, find out what's happening on the farm and how it was set up. Matthew Murphy, Farm Manager will be on hand along with representatives from Teagasc, Dawn Meats and the Irish Farmers Journal to answer any questions you may have.
Topics covered on the day include: