CAFRE, the NI based agricultural development authority are currently holding a series of farm walks on beef and sheep farms across Northern Ireland. Last Wednesday night, over 130 farmers attended a farm walk on David Wright’s farm just outside Caledon in Co Tyrone.

David Wright is a part-time farmer, his full-time job being Northern editor of the Irish Farmers Journal. He farms alongside his wife Joanne who also works off-farm and their two children Zoe (11) and Aaron (9).

The 80 acres of land on the home farm is relatively good, with a lot of it being harvested for silage, while the 60 acre out farm is a grazing farm. David was very open on the night about his limitations on the farm, the biggest one being labour.

David and Joanne’s off-farm jobs are their main priority alongside their children, and David made no bones about that. “The farm system has to fit around our jobs and family life, and sometimes that means farm tasks can’t be completed when they should. Part-time farming isn’t easy, but we do our best with the time we have”

The Wrights keep things as simple as possible on the farm, a tight calving pattern, low numbers of grazing groups and good facilities including roadways, drinkers and paddocks mean time spent on the farm can be streamlined as much as possible.

The spring of 2024 won’t be forgotten on many farms, and the Wright farm was no different. “April 2024 was as tough a month as I have put in farming since I started, cattle still in the shed, cows calving and no where to go, it was a real challenge,” David said.

Soil fertility

Brian Hanthorn explained to the farmers present the importance of soil fertility in maximising grass growth, especially where clover was being incorporated into swards on farms. There aren’t many areas for improvement on the Wright farm, but you could say that some attention needs to be paid to soil indexes.

David was very open about the challenge that faces him and all farmers in terms of working within the legislation and hitting soil fertility targets. The farm was sampled in 2018 and again in 2023, and a lot of the P and K indexes have dropped back.

“It’s something I’m going to have to keep a tight eye on. We aren’t feeding huge amounts of meal and we are curtailed in the amount of chemical Phosphorus we can spread, so our hands are tied. It’s going to cost me money to bring my indexes back up again but I have to do it.” Soil pH is good with the majority pf the farm over pH6.2.

Grassland Management

The farm is well laid out in paddocks, with all fields being suitable to be split again with strategic placement of drinking troughs. Cattle work off the simple graze in three days approach, which keeps quality grass in front of both cows and calves and beef cattle at all times.

“I would rather buy a bag of fertiliser than buy a bag of meal to be honest. We generally go with about 2/3 bag/acre with a little and often approach just to keep grass moving.”

Turnout on the farm generally occurs in March/April with housing taking place in October/November. The Wrights dabbled in over sowing clover last year and got a good hit on a paddock over sowed with the fertiliser spreader. “I’m not a clover expert but I would be willing to try more of it in the future.”

Calving Performance and Genetics

The 2024 calving season was a good one on the Wright farm, with 55 cows calved and 55 live calves on the ground. Within this there were three dead calves and two caesarean sections. Calving takes place in March/April and May each year, with calves not weaned until early January the following year.

David says this helps keep cows fit for calving. The average calving interval for the herd is 368 days. “I’m not into fancy cattle or fancy breeding. I’m into commercial breeding and cows that calve themselves and calves that go on and do a job without much fuss”.

The Wrights are alternating Limousin and Simmental genetics, with two stock bulls currently on the farm, a Limousin bull, Newhillfarm Rolex who is sired by Foxhillfarm Jasper.

David pays attention to figures when he is purchasing a bull, and is looking for calving ease coupled with growth rate. The Simmental bull, Omorga Miller21, a more maternal bull is sired by PHS Polled Worldwide 14W and is homozygous polled.

Replacements are bred on the farm, and weight gain is at the very top end for progeny of the bulls used on the farm. Heifers all calve at two years of age. Tables two and three highlight the carcase weight that David is achieving which is at the top end of industry targets.

“I’m a big believer in keeping stock moving and we actually house the bullocks before the heifers in the autumn time to keep them going. That’s why they are coming in at a younger slaughter age”

The farm’s financial performance is also at the top end of scale. Gross margin in 2023 was £1,037 (€1,220). The Wrights also managed to hold gross margin at £930 (€1,094) in a year where input costs spiralled.

Summing up the night, CAFRE adviser Kieran Hamill said the Wright family farm was a great example of a well-defined system with incremental progress being made in small steps over a period of time.

“Labour is a limiting factor on this farm, and David and Joanne are working to their strengths. You need to decide what you are doing and just get better and better at it and don’t lose focus looking at what others are doing. That’s one of the big points for me,” Hamill said.

CAFRE beef and sheep adviser Brian Hanthorn at the " Profit from Pasture Striving for Sustainability " .CAFRE evening walk on IFJ Northern Editor David Wright's farm at Caledon Co Armagh \ Houston Green
David Wright at the CAFRE " Profit from Pasture Striving for Sustainability "evening walk on his farm at Caledon Co Armagh \ Houston Green
CAFRE senior beef and sheep adviser Ciaran Hamill at the " Profit from Pasture Striving for Sustainability " .CAFRE evening walk on IFJ Northern Editor David Wright's farm at Caledon Co Armagh \ Houston Green
CAFRE adviser Regina McBennett at the " Profit from Pasture Striving for Sustainability " .CAFRE evening walk on IFJ Northern Editor David Wright's farm at Caledon Co Armagh \ Houston Green
" Profit from Pasture Striving for Sustainability " .CAFRE evening walk on IFJ Northern Editor David Wright's farm at Caledon Co Armagh \ Houston Green