Kennedy brothers, Oisín and Rian, farm just over 100 acres alongside their father, Richard, on the Sligo-Mayo border between Aclare and Swinford.
Richard is CEO of Devenish and the farm is used as part of Devenish’s research programme with innovations such as agroforesty, multispecies swards and rewetting peatlands currently being trialled across the unit.
The farm is monitoring its carbon footprint from the production of meat and measuring the level of carbon sequestration in the soil over time.
While you may think that these principles come at the expense of production-based farming – nothing could be further from the truth.
As well as running a flock of 40 midseason lambing Mule ewes, the farm is home to a herd of almost 60 Stabiliser cows with all male progeny slaughtered as under-16 month-old bulls.
Over the last number of years most of the heifers have been retained for breeding but the family hopes to start selling surplus heifers as breeders to other Stabiliser herds. The day-to-day running of the farm is taken care of by farm manager Colin Gavaghan.
Calving kicks off on 1 April and, currently, 43 cows and heifers have calved. The reminder will have calved by the end of May, giving a nine-week calving period. Cows are turned out to grass within 24 hours of calving.
Oisín explains that the average cow weight on farm is around 550kg, which suits the land type in the area.
Calves are born at 30kg to 35kg but have a rapid growth rate thereafter. Last year’s weanlings averaged 1.26kg/day from birth to weaning on the cow on a grass only diet.
This means that they are weaning a calf that is more than 50% of the cow’s body weight each year.
Calving is rarely an issue on the farm given the low birth weight. Richard says that having calved other breeds of cows through the years, calving Stabilisers is more akin to lambing ewes.
The bulls are averaging 526kg at 13 months old, which gives a lifetime average daily gain of 1.35kg/day. Weaning takes place in early November from which point the bulls were on high-quality grass silage plus 2kg of concentrate.
Meal feeding was increased gradually up to 6kg by the end of March. From this point on, the bulls were on ad-lib concentrate plus straw.
The bulls in the shed at the moment are doing close to 2kg/day. Rian says that it shows the genetic potential of these animals to perform when they are fed.
Last year’s bulls averaged around a 330kg carcase but the family is hopeful to increase this significantly this year.
The herd is still quite young and, therefore, there were a lot of bulls from first and second calvers last year.
As the herd age profile matures, the family expect to see carcase weights to increase to between 360kg and 380kg.
On the future of bull beef production in Ireland, Richard says: “I don’t think it will be as big of an issue for Stabilisers. If we can provide a carcase weight that is suitable for processors, which 360kg to 380kg currently is, then I wouldn’t be concerned. Bulls are the most efficient converters of feed to high-quality protein.
“Last year, we convinced a local butcher to kill a Stabiliser bull. He would never normally kill bulls.
“However, he was amazed at the level of finish, and the quality of meat that came from the animal.
“There is a nice bit of marbling in the breed which improves the taste – remember, this breed originated in the US where they are paid and rewarded for marbling and meat quality. It’s something that we need to look at here in Ireland.”
This year, over two acres of agroforestry has been established on some of the wetter ground on the farm.
Agroforestry is the integration of trees alongside either crops or livestock on the same land.
The majority of the trees the Kennedys have planted are cherry, due to the high value of cherry wood, alongside oak, alder, willow and rowan. The trees are planted in rows that are 10m apart while there is a gap of 3m between trees within each row.
The idea behind this is that the trees will utilise a lot of the excess moisture in the ground, making the land between the trees more trafficable, lengthening the amount of time that it is available for grazing, therefore increasing the overall productivity of the land.
To protect the young trees, they need to be fenced off from livestock. For the first couple of years, only sheep will graze in this area. Once trees are larger, cattle will also be able to graze this ground.
There are plans for more ground to go into agroforestry in the coming years.
Five acres are currently being sown out with a multispecies sward. While there has been a huge increase in multispecies swards in recent years, a lot of the research has been undertaken on drier-type soils.
The plan is to sow a six-species sward that includes grasses, chicory, plantain and clover. The work will look at the success of the establishment, which is a full plough method, as well as animal performance, sward management and persistency over time.
Richard Kennedy sees a bright future for farming in the west of Ireland. “I’m hugely passionate about farming and the role it has in keeping rural communities alive in the future. If we want young people to come back to these areas we need a strong agricultural sector.
“There is huge potential in the west of Ireland for farmers. The soil beneath our feet is our biggest asset and it is up to all of us to look after and add value to that asset.
“Only soil owners can sequester carbon and it is something that we are already doing, but it is something we can also get much better at.
“I firmly believe that carbon sequestration in the future will be as valuable a farm output as beef or lamb.”