We are hearing more and more about the need to integrate livestock and tillage systems. In the past few decades, systems had moved away from this, but there is a reason for the call for its return.
The next of our Footprint Farmers to be introduced is Andrew Mulhare, who farms outside Ballybrittas in Co Laois.
The suckler-beef farmer runs an impressive setup alongside some tillage, which would be fairly typical of the local area.
Andrew, who also works part-time for an agricultural consultant, is focused on finishing cattle early.
He rears most animals from his autumn-calving herd from calf to beef and aims to finish all bulls under 16 months, but in reality many are hitting their target much earlier than this.
The mixed-farming system brings a host of sustainable traits to the farm as animal manure can be shared across enterprises and help to maintain phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) at the correct levels.
Straw is readily available and helps with animal health, and when reseeding needs to be carried out Andrew has land available in stubble which doesn’t take from the grazing platform if needed.
Andrew’s paddock system is well set up. Each paddock is approximately 2.5ac in size and is split in half for the cows.
Animals generally go out in late March, will graze the silage ground before closing and are back in by late October or November depending on weather. The grassland stocking rate on the farm is approximately 139kg N/ha.
He targets slurry at his silage ground to work on P and K indices, while farmyard manure goes to tillage ground where it can be ploughed in and this shows in his soil sample results.
Soil is in good shape on the farm. Soil pH is high, phosphorus is at an average of 3, which is ideal, and potassium levels are at index 2.
Silage ground is bringing down his average potassium level, but this is something Andrew has been working on by applying compound high in nitrogen, with higher levels of K where silage is being taken.
As you read, the cattle are all in for the winter. The 38 cows are on straw beds, as are the calves. Andrew keeps all of his own straw and doesn’t spare it. This helps to keep animals happy and clean.
What’s very clear from Andrew is that he is focused on animal health and that animals are content.
He tests his silage for quality and minerals and gets a mineral lick made up according to what the deficiencies are.
For example, if copper is low in samples, the lick addresses this issue. By doing this he knows the cows are getting exactly what minerals they need.
Bulls are on slats with rubber mats and Andrew says they tend to lie down a lot more and ruminate, helping to improve their performance.
The cows are a mixture of Simmental cross and Charolais cross. They have all been artificially inseminated for the coming season and Andrew places easy calving among the most important traits.
Andrew has a really good handle on breeding. His calving interval is 361 days.
This year he sold some maiden heifers for the first time. He had been finishing heifers for beef, but was really happy with the return from the sale and might continue on this road.
He has good stock and it may return a better income in the future.
He recently sold a batch of bulls and has more to go before Christmas. At present bulls are on ad-lib meal which is high in energy. Silage intake at present is low as a result.
Finishing animals early can significantly reduce methane emissions and, with the right breeding and management is possible.
This can help to meet climate targets.
Spring and winter barley are the main crops on the farm.
Winter barley provides high yields, while the spring barley is grown for malting.
The malting barley adds a premium over feed, which is important. Andrew does most of the work on his tillage crops himself.
A contractor sows and harvests the crops. This makes a lot of sense.
Andrew sprays, so he is not waiting on a contractor and can spray at the optimum time, while harvest often coincides with calving or preparation for calving so it takes the pressure off at busier times of the year.
Similarly, on the grass side of things, he has his own mower, allowing him to mow at the optimum time for good silage quality.
Cover crops are also planted on the farm. This year forage rape and stubble turnips were planted.
These can be grazed, but at present Andrew does not have light enough stock to travel the ground and as fertiliser prices rise he is going to incorporate this crop back in.
It will help to build soil health, carbon and return nutrients to the ground for the following crop.
Andrew has been working hard to make changes to his system over the past few years and this is paying off, like the decision to sell maiden heifers for example.
He has a good paddock system on the farm and the next step might be to look at grass measuring to improve utilisation and efficiency.
There is a great mix of hedgerows on the farm, providing different habitats.
On the social side, he is making sensible decisions to create a better work-life balance.
On joining the programme, Andrew commented that he wants to make a living from the farm, but not at the expense of anyone or anything, now or in the future.
It’s a solid approach to take and we look forward to following his progress.