Thomas Hogan, who farms on the outskirts of Nenagh, Co Tipperary, was the 2020 Teagasc Suckler Beef Grassland Farmer of the Year.
The farm hosted a walk on 18 August to demonstrate some of the management practices that are in place to maximise the amount of grass grown and utilised each year.
The 57ha farm is divided into two blocks, one each side of the town. The farm walk took place on the outfarm, which consists of 27ha of good-quality ground where the cows and calves and replacement heifers graze for the entire season. The home farm is where silage is made and where bullocks are grazed.
Current stock numbers on the outfarm include 68 cows and their calves, as well as 25 breeding heifers. The system employed is spring-calving suckler to store, with an emphasis on using high-replacement index bulls to produce heifers to retain for breeding and surplus heifers for sale.
Local Teagasc B&T adviser Michael Daly outlined that the farm uses around 90% AI for breeding, with a stock bull only used for a few weeks to mop up.
The cows have a replacement index value of €103, while the replacement heifers are €122 and this year’s heifer calves have a value of €136 on average.
Daily liveweight gains of the calves up to weaning over the last two seasons have been impressive, with an average gain of 1.3kg/day recorded in 2020 and 1.24kg/day so far this year.
Thomas says that one of the major benefits of having so many potential replacements coming through is that he can be quite ruthless with cows if they are not performing to his standards.
“I concentrate on key maternal traits such as fertility and milk. I believe if you look after them, you will always get performance from your stock. We use mostly Limousin, with some Simmental, Charolais and Salers also in the mix,” he explained.
Focus on grass
As well as focusing on the genetics, Thomas has really concentrated on getting grassland management right for the stock over the last number of years. He started measuring grass in 2018 when he joined a local Grass10 group.
This made him see the potential in the ground he is farming and there has been a renewed focus on improving soil fertility and putting a reseeding programme in place.
One challenge the outfarm has is that it receives little or no slurry, due to the winter accommodation being located on the home farm at the far side of Nenagh town.
Some years, Thomas will import pig slurry, but a lot of the building of soil indices for P and K has to come in the form of chemical fertiliser.
Building soil indices can be a slow process, but key to knowing where to start is to have an up-to-date soil test on the ground.
John O’Loughlin from Grassland Agro emphasised to the crowd that getting the pH status of the soil correct was the most important thing to start with.
While the price of fertiliser has increased significantly this year, lime has remained stable, so farmers should be looking to invest in a liming programme where required.
Teagasc Grass10 adviser Joseph Dunphy said that beef farmers will often spend a lot of money reseeding ground that will be sub-optimal for one of pH, P or K, and within a few years, the less productive grasses will dominate the sward once again.
He suggested that farmers would get a better return for their money by delaying the reseeding programme and instead invest the money in improving the soil fertility status across the whole farm.
The outfarm is divided into 10 permanent divisions, which can be further divided into 22 sub-divisions with a single-strand temporary electric fence.
Local Teagasc B&T drystock adviser Niall Lynch described how investment in extra drinking troughs, strategically located in the centre of paddocks, allowed for the sub-division. The farm also has one central farm roadway that is key to the success of AI usage on the farm.
PastureBase Ireland’s Mícheál O’Leary said that key to getting the grazing consistently right on the farm was due to the fact that Thomas carried out 35 grass walks in 2020.
The farm grew 12t DM/ha last year, whereas the average beef farm measuring grass on PastureBase grew 10t DM/ha in 2020.
This means Thomas grew 20% more grass than the average beef farmer that measures grass. However, it is likely to be almost 40% more than the average beef farm in Ireland when non-measuring farms are included.