At Tullamore Farm, we are setting out actions to make the farm more sustainable in every sense of the word. Actions taken to work in harmony with the environment can help to reduce input costs.
The actions are outlined in this feature. Some are in progress, while others have yet to be tackled, but will be a priority for the farm over the next year. Not all will be met immediately, but the actions will be undertaken and contribute to decision-making on the farm.
Locally sourced grain cuts food miles and supports the local tillage industry, which has a low carbon footprint compared with many of the countries which we import some of the current ingredients for rations from. We will implement this gradually and in some diets.
Clover has the ability to fix nitrogen which can result in the application of less artificial fertiliser. Clover content will be increased by stitching in, inclusion in reseeds and lowering artificial nitrogen application rates.
Legislation requires less nitrogen use and reduced fertiliser use can decrease input costs while maintaining grass yields where clover is included.
There is a small wet area or pond on the farm. It is fenced from livestock but needs to be cleaned up to improve water quality. The roadway beside it may need to be cambered and a hedgerow planted to provide a sediment trap. This is planned for autumn 2021.
By increasing clover content and planting some multispecies swards, we should be able to reduce artificial nitrogen (N) use. Also, by moving to protected N, fewer emissions should be released and so less can be applied. In 2020, 167kg of N was applied per hectare on the farm.
A multispecies sward will be established this autumn. The significant proportion of leguminous plants require very little nitrogen fertiliser. A mix in root types can improve soil health, while the mixture of plants has been shown in research at UCD to improve animal performance and health.
Cutting hedgerows every three years or cutting one side one year and the top of the hedge the next ensures flowering plants on the farm each year. Maintaining hedgerows also provides shelter for stock and habitats for different wildlife.
Last week, we published results of some soil carbon tests taken from three fields. By taking carbon samples continually, we will monitor changes and be prepared for a time when carbon credits can be traded. We are modelling the carbon equivalent emissions from the farm. The aim is then to reduce these emissions and increase storage over time through the actions outlined in this plan.
We have left 0.2ac for wildlife and are planting this with grasses and native Irish wildflowers. As well as margins and space between fences and watercourses, there are plenty of wildlife corridors. Bird and bee boxes will be established, and a local beekeeper has been contacted about placing some hives on the farm. Woodlands are fenced off from farm animals.
Tullamore Farm is constantly striving to improve genetics of the herd, resulting in more efficient animal performance.
Performance recording is carried out to choose the best replacements and sire performance is examined carefully.
Teagasc and ICBF research has pointed to suckler cows with a higher replacement and terminal index emitting less methane. This is due to the efficiency increases associated with these animals.
Performance recording has been carried out in the sheep flock for the last two seasons.
This allows performance to be monitored and assessed and, in turn, allows replacements to be retained from the best-performing ewes, along with being able to accurately assess ewe and ram performance and identify poorer-performing animals for culling.
Vaccination prevents illness and improves animal performance. Cattle are vaccinated against leptospirosis, BVD, IBR, pneumonia clostridial diseases and scour. Faecal sampling is carried out to determine dosing requirements in sheep and cattle, ensuring anthelmintics are only used when needed. All replacement ewes are vaccinated for enzootic abortion and toxoplasmosis. Footvax is administered strategically as part of a lameness control programme. A clostridial disease vaccination programme is also in place covering all sheep on the farm.
Early slaughter means fewer methane emissions. Improved genetics and high-quality grass reduces the age at slaughter.
All watercourses are fenced at least 1.5m from livestock. Water troughs are also kept away from water courses. This prevents run-off and pollution of watercourses.
Contractors are used for jobs such as slurry, silage, reseeding and hedgerow maintenance. This increases labour efficiency and frees up time at busy periods of the year, as well as freeing up time on repairs. Lambing and calving are also seasonal. Calving is completed in 10 to 11 weeks, while the main lambing period is four weeks.
Grass utilisation is a top priority on the farm to reduce the amount of bought-in feed. Grass measuring is essential and mixed grazing between cattle and sheep allows grass to be used very efficiently. Some of the drier land in Cloona allows for early turnout.
On Tullamore Farm, over 95% of the suckler cows’ annual feed intake is grass or grass silage, while 95% of the lifetime diet of heifers is also grass and grass silage, and 60% of the lifetime diet of the bulls is forage- or milk-based. Across the sheep flock, grass in the diet is in excess of 90%.
Lamb output and performance is underpinned by a grass-based diet, but strategic use is also made of concentrates to finish lambs. Concentrates are introduced to ram lambs shortly after weaning. This supports higher performance at a stage when lambs are more efficient, with feed reserves used more efficiently than if lambs were retained on farm competing with other priority stock later in the year, with concentrate feeding also required in such a scenario.
All slurry is now applied using low emissions slurry spreading (LESS) equipment. This reduces ammonia emissions and can result in more efficient nutrient use.