Wednesday 28 September 2016

Green fingers: Change of grazing strategy

A change of grazing strategy is yielding results for Westmeath farmer Conor Greene, reports Ann Fitzgerald

Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30

Conor Greene
Conor Greene

Establishing a new paddock system has been the single most important factor in "turning the farm around" in terms of grass production.

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Conor Greene, who also works as a carpenter, returned to Ireland in 2012 where he took over the family farm, having spent five years in Australia, working mainly outside of agriculture.

Conor's dad, Tommy, who passed away three years ago, traditionally fattened 50-60 Friesian steers at about 30 months of age. "It was a nice simple set-stocked system that worked fairly well," says Conor who hosted a Teagasc Green Acres event on his Co Westmeath holding.

He decided to stick with rearing calves. "I had milked a few cows but a few was enough and we never had sheep," Conor says succinctly.

But he has increased numbers steadily, up to 70 before joining the GreenAcres programme. He has increased herd numbers to 112 this year and next year he plans to move to 120.

The 66ha farm is laid out in a single block. Like many people, he first laid out temporary paddocks using wire and pigtail holders but has since gone down the permanent route, using the Clipex system which attracted a lot of interest from other farmers on the day.

Conor had seen it in operation in Australia where it is made and decided to use it himself when he found out it was available here, his local supplier being James Geoghegan of Tyrellspass.

The system is comprised of galvanised steel poles of varying lengths which have a clip-in system for wires and can be used with various wire types, high tensile, barbed and even sheep wire.

Conor believes the Clipex will last longer than standard timber fencing and says it was also easier to erect. He needed to use a loader to drive the long straining posts but was able to drive the others manually.

However, he conceded that it's not easy to manage a paddock system and work at the same time "there are lots of long days".

Though he is hoping that it will become more manageable when it is fully established as he is eager to run an off-farm business alongside his farm work.

Demands

The substantial demands in terms of labour, management and financial costs of a dairy calf to beef system were a recurrent theme at the farm walk.

While the entry point is modest in terms of buying the calf, Pearse Kelly pointed out that this is otherwise not a low cost system.

Local drystock adviser Bernard Dooley said herd health is critical, citing a client of his who had encountered a complication across his calves this year, wiping out any potential profit.

A key issue is the sourcing of calves. On different farms there are different plans and, obviously, one of the first questions is whether cows have been vaccinated to boost immunity.

"If you have multiple sources, you need to be extremely careful," he warns. Conor has been fortunate up to now in that he has been able to source most of his calves from his dairy farmer brother Richard but, now that he is increasing numbers, he is going to have to look to additional sources.

Regular feeding is also critical and, on this front, Bernard believes that the automatic milk feeder, which Conor bought to reduce workload, eliminates much of the risk on this front. Another factor is the quality of the milk replacer.

Joanne Cregg, a vet with MSD Animal Health, told farmers that this particular system creates a lot of pressure on the health of calves at grass. "Where you see increased numbers of youngstock, you get a lot of problems with parasites," she said.

The most common issues are roundworms; stomach, intestinal and lungworm.

"A particular problem is when you have a staggered turnout, so early calves get infected and then become a multiplier," she said. "If there is a staggered turnout, you see more in the calves turned out later."

Lungworm is very topical, as it is a particular issue on heavily stocked pastures, especially where there is continuous grazing of young stock. "A paddock system does reduce contamination but the parasite can overwinter."

She also advised trying to avoid turning young calves out in the same couple of paddocks every year.

Ms Cregg said there is renewed interest in a lungworm vaccine, called Bovilis Huskvac. It is administered orally, in two doses, before stock are left out to grass.

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