Discussion groups have become quite common in farming in recent years. Facilitated by specially trained agricultural advisers, they allow farmers to meet regularly to discuss technical issues, share information and solve problems. There is also a strong social aspect to discussion groups, something that is much needed in what can be a very solitary occupation.
The Knowledge Transfer (KT) Programme was launched in 2016. The objective of the scheme is to upskill farmers, to encourage efficiency and effectiveness of work and ensure farmers engage in a process of continuous improvement which will help to develop their enterprise. A payment of €750 is paid to each participant for every year completed within the programme.
Considering the role discussion groups can play in meeting the objectives of the programme, it is no surprise that they play a big role in the workings of, and subsequent qualifications for the scheme. In order to be fully compliant with the scheme regulations, for each year of the programme, participants are required to attend a minimum of: Five KT group meetings orFour KT group meetings and one DAFM-approved national event orThree meetings and two DAFM-approved national events.
The current phase of the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef programme, and indeed the previous phases of the programme, hosted numerous national events, all of which were approved by the DAFM for qualification within the KT programme. Eight events were held last year – two in the spring, two in the summer and four in the autumn. Two events recently set the ball rolling once again for 2019, with Waterford farmer Maurice Hearne and Kildare farmer Ricky Milligan hosting national events on their respective holdings. A further four are planned before the year end. These are national events, however, and as already highlighted, only a maximum of two can be used in any one year for compliance within the KT scheme.
The 24 farms within the BETTER farm beef challenge are now set to become a whole lot more accessible to farmers from now on, however. In addition to hosting national events, each farm will be opened up to between four and six discussion groups in the year. This now gives the opportunity for close to 150 discussion groups to attend BETTER farms for meetings.
What makes the prospect even more exciting is the wide range of farms within the programme. Holdings ranging from 18ha to 123ha, are run by full-time and part-time operators and include a broad range of systems from suckler to beef, suckler to store or calf-to beef. Many are also mixed, with either sheep or tillage present.
Each of the BETTER farm beef challenge participants has, over the last two years, been constantly striving to improve performance on their farm by up taking the best advice and technologies available. This new discussion group feature within the BETTER farm programme will now give visiting farmers the opportunity to see and discuss first-hand the practices on the programme farms that have been featured at national events and in the Irish Farmers Journal each week.
The BETTER farm participants must be commended for their willingness to host these discussion groups considering the time that they will have to give up. However, the learnings from discussion groups are often two-fold, with the potential for host farmers to benefit from fresh pairs eyes on the farm.
Each discussion group will be facilitated by one of the Teagasc BETTER farm advisers – Martina Harrington, Tommy Cox and John Greaney – as well as each group’s own facilitator. Given the current difficulties being experienced within the suckler and beef sector, this new discussion group model should be seen as an attractive opportunity for farmers to take on board new learnings.
Martin Downes –
Mixed suckler-to-beef, sheep and tillage operator Martin Downes hosted two discussion groups on his farm in Multyfarnham last week. Calving and bull finishing were the key points discussed.
As things stand, there are fewer than 20 cows left to calve. Ideally, calving would be closer to the end but Martin explained that “due to the drought occurring right in the middle of the breeding season last year, it put a lot of pressure on stock bulls and cows. After we scanned the cows last autumn we knew there was going to be a break in the middle of calving, and it coincided with the extreme heat.”
Breeding is due to start on, or slightly before 1 May. A Charolais, Angus and Salers bull are on the farm at present. The Salers bull will run with the maiden heifers. Martin pointed out that “by chance, we let an Angus bull with a group of mainly late calvers last year. What is really noticeable now as cows are calving is the way he pulled the calving date of these cows forward because he is short gestation.”
Bulls destined for slaughter under 16 months are being built up to ad-lib finishing now. At present, the diet consists of 8kg concentrates, 10kg fodder beet and silage and straw. As the fodder beet is almost gone, concentrate levels will be built up to 12kg over the coming weeks.
It was explained that for the finishing period, the diet needs to be very high-energy and low protein. Energy drives weight gain and helps to lay down fat. During the store period over the winter, protein is important to grow the bulls. “The store diet included half a kilo of soya to help grow the frames of the bulls,” Martin said.
The bulls are currently averaging 505kg at just over 12 months of age. Target live weight at slaughter is around 700kg so, with a kill out of 58%, a carcase weight of 400kg is the objective. Average carcase weight in 2018 was 390kg.
Looking at the averages, another 195kg need to be put on in around 110 days. This equates to a target daily gain of 1.77kg. They are currently doing 1.5kg/day and this should increase as more concentrates are allocated.
With participating farms now entering their third year of the programme, farm plans are beginning to take shape and good progress is been made. The discussion group concept was introduced this year to get more traffic through the BETTER farms and give local groups the chance to see what changes have been made on farms and how they are impacting performance. Last week in Multyfarnham, two local groups from the area along with local B&T advisor Carmel Lennon, got an in-depth view of the farm’s system and the reasons for Martin’s swing toward finishing bull’s under 16 months. Other areas looked at on the day were grassland management on the farm, calving 2019 and a look towards the forthcoming breeding season.