Newford Farm located in Athenry, Co Galway, has started the 2022 grazing season over a month earlier in 2022, with yearling heifers turned out to grass on Wednesday.

The 40 heifers have been housed for by far the shortest timeframe since the project began over seven years ago.

Strong grass growth rates in autumn and favourable ground conditions allowed heifers to be retained outdoors until 7 December, over a month later than the norm.

Performance over the 45-day indoor period has been positive, with analysis carried out by Teagasc's Michael Fagan showing heifers recording an average daily gain of 0.72kg and going to grass at an average liveweight of 411kg.

Heifers prioritised

Heifers have typically been prioritised for early turnout in recent years, as they lend themselves to being grazed in the Cones outfarm block before being closed for silage in early April.

It has also tied in with a focus in maximising the number of heifers finished off grass.

Achieving earlier finishing in heifers would reduce the stocking rate on the farm

Matthew Murphy of Newford Farm explains that there will be an even greater focus on finishing heifers earlier in 2022, with the farm keen to see if the average finishing age for heifers can be pulled back from an average of 20 months to 16 to 18 months.

Achieving earlier finishing in heifers would reduce the stocking rate on the farm and reduce the pressure on fertiliser use and associated costs in the second half of the year.

Michael’s analysis shows that the top 30 heifers in the group weighed 423kg, while the bottom 10 heifers weighed 375kg.

The heaviest heifer in the group weighed 487kg and the lightest heifer in the group is 337kg. Last year’s comparable batch of 56 heifers were turned out to grass on 27 February at an average of 411kg liveweight.

Ground conditions

Ground conditions are described as relatively good for the time of year. Significant rainfall midweek has led to tender ground conditions, but ground has dried well since then.

Heifers have been temporarily released to the Gort na Habhainn land block, as the farm has another TB test coming up in early February and handling facilities in Cones outfarm are not sufficient for testing.

The farm is also planning to take advantage of the improvement in ground conditions by applying 65t this weekend at a rate 1.5t per acre across Cones block of land.

Calving focus

Aside from getting heifers turned outdoors early, the focus for Jerry O’Brien, who has joined the farm team, is on putting plans in preparation for calving.

Calving pens have been washed and disinfected and calving equipment has also been replenished.

The first cows are not due to calve until early February, but closer supervision has started, with one or two cows calving ahead of time in recent years.

All slats are being scraped down daily with lime applied. This practice has been seen as beneficial in recent years in reducing the risk of cows in the herd with a higher milk yield contracting mastitis.