Nenagh, Co Tipperary
Tom Hogan’s home farm is at Newtown near Nenagh, Co Tipperary, but he brought the judges to the out-farm, which is on the outskirts of Nenagh town. This block of 66 acres is home to the 60 suckler cows and calves for the duration of the grazing season. There are no wintering facilities on this farm so all animals are wintered on the home farm.
Soil type is free-draining and the land is excellent quality. That’s the starting point, but it is what Tom is doing with the land that impressed the judges. The 66 acres have been split into 10 permanent paddocks, but these are then split into smaller paddocks using temporary fences. On the day the judges visited in mid-September, the calves were being creep-grazed ahead of the cows.
Tom has been on a reseeding programme since 2018 and is also on a mission to improve soil fertility. He is already reaping the fruits of this effort, as he is growing more grass, which is allowing him to increase animal numbers. He had 45 cows on the farm in 2016 and is planning on keeping 68 cows next year – all on the same land area.
Total acreage is around 166 acres and all progeny are sold as stores at 1.5 years of age. Tom’s cows have a high EBI for maternal traits, so his mainly Simmental maiden and in-calf heifers are in high demand as replacement suckler cows.
The main priority is to get soil fertility corrected before reseeding. The whole farm was soil-sampled in 2018 and the plan is to do this every two years or so. Low-index fields are targeted with whatever nutrients they are lacking, such as lime, phosphorus or potash. Tom is not in a derogation and so can import pig slurry from neighbouring farmers. This is targeted on low-index fields. Chemical phosphorus and potash is applied in the form of 18:6:12 and 10:10:20 to low-index fields and for maintenance application, along with both protected and ordinary urea.
Tom took up grass measuring in 2018 by joining a local Grass10 measuring group. Joining the group has been the catalyst for change, improving soil fertility and embarking on a reseeding programme. He says he is now more proactive about pre-grazing yields and sets an upper limit of nine to 14 days of grass ahead during peak growing months and June.
Lattin, Co Tipperary
JP Hammersley aims to make €20/hour for every hour worked on his dairy calf to beef farm near the village of Lattin in west Tipperary. An engineer by trade, he works off-farm with Boston Scientific and has put some of his off-farm skills into practice on the farm. The first thing visitors to the farm see is his metrics board, where he outlines the key things he wants to achieve on the farm and how he’s going to achieve them.
The 37ha farm is all in one block and is split into 45 paddocks through a number of subdivisions. Most of the paddocks are only 0.7ha to 0.8ha.
Seventy male calves were purchased last spring from just one dairy farmer in the locality. These calves are an average of 48% Friesian and 52% Holstein. The number of calves purchased last spring is the highest yet, up from 56 the preceding year.
The calves are reared until slaughter at 24 to 28 months of age. His target weights for the animals on 1 July this year were 140kg for the calves (actual 171kg), 446kg for the one- to two-year-olds (actual 410kg) and 700kg for the remaining big cattle (actual 700kg). Most of the older cattle are slaughtered off grass, but a proportion of the 24-month-old cattle are slaughtered out of the shed after 100 days of feeding.
JP’s aim is to get cheap liveweight gain from grass. In order to achieve this, he targets to grow a lot of high-quality grass and graze it at the right stage. This is where the paddock system and grazing infrastructure comes into play. There used to be dairy cows on the farm, so it benefits from a central roadway. The existing paddock system has been sub-divided and new water troughs installed in the centre of paddocks.
Reseeding has been a big focus over the last few years, with 20 acres reseeded in 2019. No reseeding was carried out in 2020, but the plan is to do 20 acres in 2021. Along with this, JP is on a mission to get clover established in all fields. He is doing this by oversowing clover using a tine harrow – doing two runs at half-rate. His method of choice for a full reseed is to disc and one-pass, while using Abergain and Aberchoice grass varieties.
Trim, Co Meath
Tom and his son Peter are primarily tillage and sheep farmers from Trim, Co Meath. The duo run a large farm of mostly owned land and keep over 800 ewes, which lamb outdoors. Ewes in lamb to singles are grazed on stubbles and fed silage for the winter. Ewes in lamb to doubles are grazed over the winter on Redstart, while those in lamb to triplets are housed and fed silage.
Ewes are lambed on grass and fed a cob-type meal outdoors although this was difficult last February, as land was wet. In terms of performance, the McGuinnesses are scanning 1.81 lambs to the ewe and weaning 1.44 lambs to the ewe, which is good performance for outdoor lambing.
Peter does all of the grass measuring on the farm and took it up when he returned from work placement on dairy farms in New Zealand. The average grass growth rate on the farm is 11tDM/ha, but Peter reckons this will improve over the coming years through increasing the area being reseeded, improving soil fertility and by more measurement and management, such as grazing at the right time and achieving correct residuals.
The farm is well laid out, with large fields subdivided into paddocks. Ewes are kept in groups of about 250 and weaned lambs are kept in groups of about 300. The weaned lambs are given preferential access to the grass and were being moved on ahead of the ewes when the judges visited in early September. At that stage, 90% of the lambs were away, having averaged 39kg liveweight.
Reseeding is carried out as part of the crop rotation, usually after winter wheat. Peter’s varieties of choice this year were Nifty, Oakpark and Aberclyde, along with Aberace clover. Soil fertility is generally good.
About 50% of the nitrogen being used is protected urea. A B&B beef finishing unit in the yard supplies the farm with high-quality slurry and this is applied back on the silage ground using a new slurry spreader and trailing shoe. The slurry is also treated with slurry bugs.
Peter carries out over 20 grass walks per year across the 75ha of grazing ground. He reseeded 16% of the grazing ground in 2020, 8% was reseeded in 2019 and 14% was reseeded in 2018. All machinery work is carried out by themselves using their own tillage equipment.
Dower, Castlemartyr, Co Cork
Pat Collins runs a sizeable beef and tillage farm along with his father Matt at Castlemartyr in east Cork.
How he manages grass in the beef enterprise was the focus of the judges’ visit. Pat runs a dairy calf to beef system, focusing mostly on bull beef. He finishes some stores and heifers also. He purchased 100 Holstein Friesian bull calves in 2019 but increased this to 180 calves in 2020 which were mostly Holstein Friesian bulls but some Angus bulls and heifers were also purchased.
The system centres on grass and getting animals away as quickly as possible. About 40% of the bulls are slaughtered at 16 months of age, with the remainder slaughtered at 18 to 20 months. The bulls achieve big weights, finishing out at 330kg to 350kg carcase weight.
Calves are reared as normal in their first year, paddock-grazed and moved every 24 to 36 hours. They are housed for the winter and are turned out to grass in February. The bulls are housed again in early July and put on an intensive finishing ration for 85 to 100 days before being slaughtered. Interestingly, the majority of this intensive finishing diet is grown on the farm – grass silage, barley, beans, straw, etc.
The farm is well laid out, with paddocks and water system
Grazing infrastructure is top class, with a roadway down the centre of the farm making moving animals very simple. The farm is well laid out, with paddocks and water system. All the farm has been reseeded in the past three years and soil fertility is superb, with all the farm at index four for phosphorus and potassium and a pH of 6.5. As a tillage farmer, Pat can see firsthand the importance of soil fertility.
A big focus for Pat is to reduce nitrogen usage and he sees clover as having a big role here. There are good quantities of white clover in nearly all of the grazing paddocks and he has red clover sown in some of the silage fields. He says there are three benefits of clover:
Pat says there are three things necessary for good establishment of clover: