An Offaly farm near Portarlington is part of the 'Future Beef' network
THe Signpost programme is a multi-annual campaign to lead climate action by all Irish farmers.
The programmes aims to achieve early progress in reducing gaseous emissions from Irish agriculture and also improve water quality maintain and in some cases improving bio-diversity and hopefully reduce costs and create more profitable and sustainable farming enterprises.
It will also act as a test bed for on-farm carbon sequestration measurements so that this can, in time, be taken into account by the EPA in the national Greenhouse Gas inventory.
We do need to acknowledge the challenges ahead for food production systems globally and no more so in Ireland where 37% of all national greenhouse gas emissions come from the agri-food sector.
John Dunne of Tinnacrannagh House, Portarlington Co.Offaly is one farmer of a network of 22 demonstration farms within the Future Beef programme which is part of the national” Signpost Programme” for climate action. John runs a suckler to beef herd and a dairy calf to beef system on his farm.
The aim of Future Beef programme is to demonstrate to beef farmers how they can produce a quality product as efficiently as possible to make beef farming more profitable while also making it more environmentally and socially sustainable.
So as John starts to implement the objectives of the “Future Beef programme” on his farm this is his story so far this year:
I have 56 cows scanned in-calf and calving has started. Cows are in good condition feeding on ad-lib silage, straw and a pre-calving mineral. I normally, keep the cow and calf indoors for 2 to 3 days but if the weather is kind, they are let out to a sheltered paddock near the sheds. Calving continues for 12 weeks until the end of April.
Key objective: All my cows should produce a good genetic merit calf every year- I will be using ICBF data for making decisions.
Silage is very tight and both yearlings and forward cattle are on silage plus 5-6kgs of meal. This amount of meal is costly but better value than buying silage and I know what I am getting. The ration is a barley based one. I had 167 weanlings (these are dairy calf to beef animals ) on fodder rape and that’s all grazed now. I decided to move these onto grass for a number of reasons. Firstly, I had to keep them near the yard for the TB test and secondly, grazing off covers of grass will allow me to spread slurry onto bare ground which will be closed for silage in March. These fields had relatively low covers of grass and are dry fields. The weanlings were given enough grass for 1 day and moved on to the next paddock. This minimized any poaching and grass was grazed to below 4cm which will ensure good quality re-growths. Having these animals on spring grass saved me €2/L.U per day. This is a saving €200 per day. My plan is to keep the majority of these weanlings out on grass-weather permitting. The out-farm in Rathfeston, Geashill has been closed since October and there is a nice cover of grass there averaging 800-1000kgs/DM/Ha. Following the Teagasc Spring Rotation planner the target will be to graze 30% of the farm by the first week in March. That will allow me to move 100 weanlings out to that farm shortly. I am cautious as when they move to the out-farm- rehousing is not really an option!
Key objective: All animals on my farm intake top quality grass to achieve high average daily gains – I will be measuring grass using the Pasture Base program for managing grass and making quality silage. All weanling will be weighed, recorded and average daily gains monitored during the grazing season.
As there is a high demand for grass my next priority to get slurry out and also apply some fertiliser. I did get some slurry out but just to lower the tanks. I delayed spreading until the grass really needs it but that’s not far away now. With fertiliser prices almost three times the price on last year- slurry has never been as valuable. My Teagasc adviser tells me that’s every 2500 gals is worth €100 in nutrients - so slurry will be applied to the silage ground in early March where it needs it most. I purchased a LESS slurry tanker last year through TAMS so I will get more value from the slurry while minimizing emissions.
Like most farmers the price of fertiliser is very concerning but I have no option but to purchase some. For the first few months I will use protected urea and it’s the cheapest form of nitrogen compared to CAN or some of the blends. Protected urea has environmental advantages. I aim to spread 20 units/acre as soon as possible. The farm is recently soil tested and I am waiting for the results to determine what P, K and lime is needed.
Key objective: Soil sampling to pinpoint soil fertility: Slurry samples to pinpoint nutrient content of slurry and using LESS slurry spreading technology to maximise NPK from slurry and reduce chemical fertiliser.
Please feel free to follow all the farmers that are within the signpost and future beef programmes on www.teagasc.ie. I wish to thank John for participating, and being open to new methods and technology and to all the partners of industry that help sponsor these programmes for the benefit of all farmers in climate action..
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