Over the next few weeks, the Irish Farmers Journal livestock team will be profiling the winners in the inaugural FBD National Livestock Show sustainability awards.
The awards aim to recognise the huge amount of work that is already taking place on ordinary farms around the country in relation to climate change and increasing biodiversity on their farms.
The competition was run across five different sections, suckler to beef, suckler to weanling production, dairy calf to beef production, mid season lamb production and store to finish beef production.
Judges for the competition were Christy Watson on behalf of Teagasc, Michael Maloney on behalf of Bord Bia and myself from the Irish Farmers Journal.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Michael Dolan from Tullamore Show said “ We are delighted with how the competition went in its first year. It would not have been possible without the support of our sponsors the Department of Agriculture and Food, Teagasc, ICBF, Bord Bia, Animal Health Ireland, Meat Industry Ireland and Dairy Industry Ireland.”
Teagasc director Frank O’Mara said “Teagasc is delighted to have been involved in the Sustainability Village and congratulates all the finalists and award winners of the various sustainable livestock categories.
These farmers are excellent role models for working with nature and using modern science-based technologies to improve their economic and environmental sustainability. They are demonstrating practical ways of implementing best practice to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their farms.”
Vincent Keane farms in a picturesque part of the country just outside Kinvara in Co Galway. Walking the farm with Vincent during the summer months, I got a really good feel for how, like all farmers, Vincent farms in conjunction with nature on his farm.
Vincent’s farm is very typical of a lot of farms in the area, a drystock operation being farmed on a mix of lowland ground and Burren winterage. Vincent has been a participant in the Burren Life Programme for the last 13 years.
The Burren Life Programme was a unique programme which worked with farmers in the Burren and surrounding areas to farm with nature. Improving field scores for plant biodiversity and managing scrub was a central part of the programme.
Participants in the programme were supported to do the right work based on their farm plan, and then got paid on the outcome. Vincent spoke very highly of the programme and said it transformed both the way he looked at nature and farming and also his farming practices.
“When you look back at the work that we completed, a lot of it was common sense and working with nature, but a lot of the farmers in this area had forgotten how to do that. It also brought in new farming techniques like tailoring our concentrates and fertiliser to the Burren system of farming. ” Vincent said.
Improving field scores has been a major focus on his farm. A lot of this centred around fern management in July and August every year, which involved manually strimming/cutting the fern cover to allow other flora and fauna grow in the Burren area. Furze are also managed on the farm to avoid encroachment, along with all watercourses on the farm being fenced from livestock.
Vincent was a participant in the Beef Data and Genomics programme and as part of that he has been working hard to improve both the milk and fertility of the herd.
“We have been crossing the Simmental and Limousin over the last number of years and we are happy with both the performance and quality of the stock. We have also introduced some polled genetics with the purchase of a polled Limousin bull from the Roundhill herd.
"The farm is also a participant in the Suckler Cow Efficiency Programme, the ACRES co-operation scheme and the National Beef Welfare Scheme.
Suckler Herd Performance
Vincent’s cows are doing a really good job for him. Target slaughter age is 24 months for bullocks and 22 months for heifers. Weighing is carried out on a regular basis to make sure that cattle hit age at slaughter targets. Average cow weight on the farm is 658kg, with the 2022 weaning efficiency figure (200 day calf weight as % of cow weight) coming in at 44%.
The 2022 200 day weight for the bull calves was 295kg (1.24/kg/day since birth) while the heifer calves weighed in at 280kg (1.18/kg/day since birth). The majority of the cows are now 4 and 5 stars on the replacement index.
Vincent follows a strict animal health programme on the farm, with calves all vaccinated for scour. Calves also receive pneumonia vaccinations along with vaccinations for clostridial disease.
Faecal sampling is carried out on a regular basis during the summer months in both lambs and calves to determine worm counts and whether dosing is required.
Cows are wintered on the Burren, with spring calving cows moving up in October and coming back down about one month before they calve. “ We never usually have any calving problems, as cows are really fit and not fat coming back down off the winterage” Vincent said.
Slurry is spread via a local contractor and in recent years this is all spread with a trailing shoe tanker. Half of the slurry is spread in spring, with the remaining slurry spread during the summer months. No protected urea is used on the farm but Vincent is open to using it in the future.
The 200 ewe flock is lambed at the beginning of April with the flock being made up of Texel, Suffolk and Bluefaced Leicester ewes. These are put to the Charollais ram with some lambs finished, some sold as replacements to local farmers and lighter later born lambs sold as stores in autumn.
The judges were particularly impressed with Vincent’s farming system and the way he was farming with the Burren and the surrounding environment in mind. Animal performance and management were also top class, with two year old calving and under 24 month slaughtering of animals all being carried out on the farm.
Next week we profile the dairy beef winners Caitriona and Joe O’Meara and the suckler to weanling winners, Margaret and Jack Stevenson.