Analysis completed by Teagasc shows that Newford Suckler Demonstration Farm, located in Athenry, Co Galway, is on target to achieve a carbon footprint figure which is 14% lower than the national average for similar enterprises.

The carbon footprint figures were disseminated at a recent meeting on the farm to get an update on performance in its seventh year and in particular learn what environmental targets the farm is pursuing as part of the Teagasc Signpost Farm Programme which it joined in 2022.

The farm is already achieving key performance indicators on the breeding side.

Herd replacements are calving at 24 months of age and the herd is achieving a 365-day calving interval with a breeding period of 10 weeks.

Weaning weights averaging 1.35kg from birth to weaning in the last three years is also laying a foundation for reducing the average age at which animals are slaughtered.

Reducing slaughter age

Slaughtering animals at a younger age is where the greatest gains have been achieved in the last year. The batch of 2021-born heifers were slaughtered in 2022 at an average age of 17.9 months (544 days).

This is two months younger than in 2021 (605 days) and is between seven and eight months less than the national average figure of 26.6 months (808 days).

The 2021-born bullocks also reduced their average age of slaughter in 2022 with Teagasc analysis showing bullocks slaughtered at an average age of 20.6 months (623 days).

This is an improvement of 18 days on 2021 slaughter performance and is almost seven months younger than the national average figure of 27.4 months.

Finishing regime

The majority of heifers were drafted off grass without any concentrate feeding. A focus in the herd in 2022 was to see if the average age of slaughter could be significantly reduced by prioritising the length of the grazing season for heifers.

Heifers were turned out to grass on 20 January after a housing period of approximately two months. This was achieved by prioritising autumn grass supplies for heifers in autumn 2021, with heifers remaining outdoors until late November and then turned out to silage ground.

This focus was helped by the fact that the stocking rate in the herd has reduced to 2.42LU/ha for the last three years. This is still a high figure but combined with Coen’s block of land entering the project two years ago and all being reseeded it has boosted growth in the shoulders of the year.

The batch of 40 heifers recorded an average carcase weight of 296kg. Heifers weighed 564kg prior to slaughter equating to an average killout of 52%.

The 26 2022-born heifers were given priority again and remained outdoors until mid-December.

The average grade was R-3= and 38 out of the 40 heifers graded 2+ and upwards on fat score.

This left two heifers foregoing the 20c/kg Quality Payment Scheme (QPS) bonus, with one heifer suffering health issues and never seen as likely to hit targets.

The average sale price received was €1,507 per head. This was based on an average carcase weight of €5.06/kg. Lifetime concentrate intake was 306kg, compared to 570kg for the previous year’s crop of heifers, with 32 heifers drafted off grass without any concentrate feeding.

The initial target was to slaughter heifers at less than 16 months but this was not deemed feasible without significant concentrate input.

The 2022-born batch of heifers also received priority access to grass were retained outdoors until early December. They will be prioritised again for early turnout in 2023 to see if the average slaughter age can be maintained and possibly reduced further.

Finishing programme

There were four bullocks drafted for slaughter on 31 August off grass. Concentrate supplementation was introduced at a rate of 3kg per head daily on the following day (1 September) to 20 bullocks with these housed on 7 October. The remaining 19 bullocks were housed on 21 October.

Bullocks were finished on ad-lib top-quality 74 DMD silage and 6.5kg concentrates.

Each bullock consumed approximately 250kg concentrates. At a cost of €411/t this equates to €103 per bullock finished to date.

The aim is to draft the final four bullocks before year end.

The average sale price was €4.96/kg with the overall sale value at €1,776 per head. This includes four animals which missed out on the 20c/kg QPS bonus by virtue of their fat score of 2=. This is an area that will be reviewed for the 2023 finishing programme with the target for all animals to satisfy QPS criteria.

Environmental focus

As part of the Signpost Programme, Newford Farm aims to enhance its environmental credentials with a number of areas of focus identified. These include:

  • Soil health and carbon sequestration.
  • Biodiversity and water quality.
  • Grassland management, fertiliser use and multispecies swards.
  • Herd health, genetics and breeding.
  • Planning and data capture.
  • Commenting on the recent developments Dawn Meats CEO Niall Browne said: “Progress on key sustainability metrics and regenerative practices has been accelerated in recent years through the range of Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) measures implemented at Newford and data-driven decisions made daily on farm management.

    “If implemented at scale nationally, these same practices can drive significant improvement in on-farm efficiency and greatly reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions in line with the national climate strategy.”

    Jim O’Toole, CEO Bord Bia; Professor Frank O’Mara, Director of Teagasc; Niall Browne, CEO of Dawn Meats.

    Professor Frank O’Mara, director of Teagasc, added: “The challenge facing cattle farmers is significant in terms of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

    “The performance of the Newford Suckler herd during the first phase of this joint initiative over the last seven years, has demonstrated what can be achieved in terms of animal performance, profitability and environmental sustainability.

    “We are delighted to continue this initiative into a second phase.”

    Bord Bia CEO Jim O’Toole said; “It is encouraging to see the Newford Farm is producing prime beef cattle that meet customer specifications in terms of weight, age and carcase grading, while reducing the carbon footprint of the farm.

    “Recent analysis of Origin Green data shows that beef members have, on average, reduced their carbon footprint by 8% since 2014-2016. Collaborative on-farm initiatives have identified opportunities to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    “These improvements allow Bord Bia to communicate a strong, sustainability position to customers of Irish beef.”