Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Planning for higher output

Teagasc adviser Gordon Peppard profiles two of the participating farmers in the Green Acres Calf to Beef programme

Taking stock: Christy Dowd is rearing 52 Angus and Hereford heifer calves
Taking stock: Christy Dowd is rearing 52 Angus and Hereford heifer calves

Based outside Tulsk, Co Roscommon, Christy Dowd farms 105 acres of grassland, which is quite fragmented with four separate blocks of land.

The home block of 70ac of owned and leased lands is well set out with a good roadway and paddock layout. The other blocks of lands are mainly cut for silage or hay, in addition to being used for grazing in the autumn.

Christy previously operated a dairy farm.

However, he switched systems and is currently running a herd of 40 suckler cows and followers for the last number of years.

Christy, along with his Teagasc advisor Ger Cregg, identified the need to increase output on his farm and in the spring of 2015 he decided to start rearing Angus and Hereford heifer calves. He currently has 52 calves reared this year.

Christy plans to rear and finish approximately 60 heifers every year. These will predominantly be Angus/Hereford heifers but there may also be a few reared and finished as bullocks.

Spring 2015

With no designated calf rearing shed on the farm, Christy converted on old hay barn into an area to house his calves. The calves were divided into two separate groups and Christy used a Volac automated calf feeder to rear the calves.

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The feeder worked very well for Christy in that calves were consistently fed the same amount and concentration at all times and as the feeder has a 64-day programme with calves gradually weaned off.

A few of the calves got pneumonia but Christy was able to keep all calves alive with veterinary assistance and treatments.

However, the sick animals can now be easily identified as they are slightly behind the others. Healthy calves thrived very well with the best calves weighed 125kgs at turnout to grass.

Pneumonia can be a major problem in young stock and often ventilation is an area that needs to be addressed in calf houses.

This is an area that Christy has identified for improving for next year as this could have been one of the main causes of the pneumonia problem. A good vaccination programme will also be put in place to try and contain the issue next year.

Grassland management

Christy has a very good paddock layout on the home block of land. He has been grass measuring for the last number of years with a plate meter and recording his results on the Pasture Base system.

This system gives a very good report on the amount of grass on the farm at any time and from this information, good management decisions can be made, such as removing excess grass as baled silage or if grass is in deficit, helping make a decision on when and where to spread fertiliser, slow up the rotation and so on.

The main aims of the grass measuring system is to identify the amount of grass in each paddock so that you can start grazing paddocks when they are 10cm high and to move stock out of the paddocks when they are grazed down to 4cm high.

Paddocks should ideally be a size that a group of animals can get in and out of it in three to four days and that the new regrowth is not affected.

From mid-April to August it is recommended that each grazing group has six to seven paddocks creating a 21 day rotation and a simple rule can then apply - with grass to be grown in three weeks and eaten in three days.

Christy has become very good at grazing management and he consistently can get paddocks grazed down to 4cm. This allows top quality grass to be grown from the base of the grass plant.

One of the main aims for Christy in joining the programme was to increase output on the farm as he has realised that output is the main driver of profit.

The programme will draw up a three-year farm plan to try help Christy streamline his system, produce more beef from the same amount of grassland without drastically increasing costs.

One of the reasons for purchasing Angus and Hereford heifers was that, animal housing for a second winter would be very tight and Christy plans to have the heifers sold from grass at 20 months to avoid having to re-house them again.

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