Farm Ireland

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Tasting success with the farm to fork approach

Paddy Redmond, farm manager Nicky Livingston and Tommy Redmond (l-r) assessing the feed on the farm.
Paddy Redmond, farm manager Nicky Livingston and Tommy Redmond (l-r) assessing the feed on the farm.
The distinctive marbled beef.
The Angus cross heifers are reared on grassland and quality feed and are served as steaks and gourmet burgers at Redmond's hotels in Gorey.
The Angus cross-heifers.

The production of beef from our expanding dairy herd will continue to be an important aspect of our beef industry. The systems currently advocated are primarily focused on the male calves which include under 16-month black and white bulls, 20-month old bulls, 24-month old steers and crossbreeds such as Angus and Herefords.

All of these systems have been relatively successful and efficient in turning a perceived by-product into quality beef. Two farming brothers using the dairy calf to beef principle and producing a high end final product are the Redmond Brothers, Paddy and Tommy.

The Redmond Farm is located close to Craanford in Co Wexford. The farm specialises in producing beef that is used in the Redmonds' sister hotels, the Ashdown Park and Amber Springs in Gorey. The farm-to-fork concept has been brought to a new level on the Redmond farm right from the sourcing of calves to the cooking of the beef.

"For us provenance is key," says Tommy Redmond. "Very often consumers can have a hazy view of where our food comes from. We remove that worry, all our beef can be traced back to our own farm which is of great benefit and added value to our hotel guests. Our challenge is to close that link and ensure customers know the origin and the excellent quality of food we have on offer."

The farm consists of 300ac off which 500 Angus cross heifers are finished annually. The aim is to produce as much feed on the farm as possible. This year's crops included 40ac of high dry matter fodder beet, 10ac of forage maize (grown under plastic), 30ac of winter wheat, 10ac of potatoes and 10ac of vegetables.

Potatoes and vegetables are grown for use within the hotels with the surplus or anything that doesn't pass quality control used as cattle feed. All tender vegetable crops such as lettuce, tomatoes and courgettes are grown under extensive plastic tunnels.

The farm produces 100pc heifer beef and only uses Angus cross stock, with calves mainly purchased directly from local farms. On occasion the required stock has been sourced further south.

Angus cross heifers calves are raised to be slaughtered at a carcase weight of 300kg at the youngest age possible, ideally 18-20 months old. Nutrition plays an important role in enhancing live weight gain and the Angus' natural ability to produce marbled beef.

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Farm manager Nicky Livingston, oversees the whole process, from rearing to finish. "My main aim, while ensuring maximum animal performance, is to produce premium quality beef as the end product," he says.

Calves enter the farm at 10-12 days old and are reared in groups of 40. High quality milk replacer is fed for a 10-12 week rearing period. Calf crunch is available from day one and Nicky likes to wean the calves when they are consuming 1.5kg of crunch per day. Specifically formulated TMR is fed midway through the rearing period. They transition onto this as their sole feed until they go to grass.

Calves are rotationally grazed on recently reseeded grass in batches of approximately 80. They are supplemented for most of the grazing season with a home-produced mix containing barley, molasses, soya bean, straw and minerals. The supplementation boosts growth while also influencing meat quality.

If grass availability doesn't match demand, high quality haylage is fed. This was the case on two separate occasions this summer. While adding to Nicky's workload, he felt that no performance was lost on these occasions.

When animals enter the shed for the winter they are fed a growing ration. Given the high demands for consistent growth rates within this system, there is no scope for a 'store' period. Were animals to be fed solely on grass silage for the winter months, a maximum weight gain of 0.4kg/ day would be achieved. Compensatory growth would be obtained when the animals return to grazing.

However, this system would undermine the Redmonds' objective of finishing young heifers with a consistent quality and highly marbled meat. The aim of this growing ration is to mimic what has happened during the grazing period. Continued growth is achieved through feeding an overall ration of 14.5pc protein and medium energy.

This ration contains all the aforementioned feeds that are grown on the farm (see table). It is important that the ratio between protein and energy is correct at this stage.

Overfeeding with energy during this period, particularly with Angus bred animals, will result in excessive fat being deposited and lower final carcase weights. In the spring, when grass is available, lighter animals return to grass.

They will feed solely on grass until they are selected for entering the shed for finishing. Animals that have performed best during the winter growing period are selected and batched for starting their finishing period.

The feeds used in the finishing ration are selected to maximise animal performance and enhance the marbling quality of the meat. All animals are fed indoors on the finishing ration for a minimum of 120 days, with the ration fed throughout the year to varying group sizes.

Washed and chopped fodder beet is the primary energy source. Beet is highly palatable feed due to its high sugar content. This means that high dry matter and high energy intakes can be achieved.

As mentioned, the finishing ration is fed all year meaning beet must be available all year. This is achieved in the summer months by feeding ensiled beet and maize that is pitted and stored from the spring.

All wheat grown on the farm is stored using the Maxammon grain enhancement system. Barley is purchased locally, with the same treatment system used as with the wheat.

Protein is obtained through using a protein blend or as was the case this year, straight protein. If surplus potatoes become available they can be fed fresh or ensiled with grass silage.

To achieve the target carcase weight of approximately 300kg, animals must finish at live weights exceeding 580kg.

A lifetime weight gain of 0.9kg/day is the target within this system. Animals are selected to go onto the finishing diet when they exceed 430kg live weight.

Through good management and good feeding, the Redmonds are achieving weight gains of 1.2kg/day during the finishing period, an exceptional result for this breed mix. With the use of fodder beet, quality maize silage and home-grown cereals the energy density of the finishing diet is high.

This mix encourages high intakes and therefore high performance. Heifers are averaging kill outs of 51.5pc, with animals all slaughtered locally.

There is great pride attached to the immense asset that the Redmond Farm offers the hotels, with a high proportion of the total carcasses being utilised in their restaurants.

This quality and taste can be testified by anyone that has sampled a Redmond Farm steak or gourmet burgers.

During the peak four-week period in summer, the hotels accommodate up to 11,000 guests, and handle an average of 15 weddings and an additional 5,000 visitors.

These figures equate to a demand for approximately 20,000 meals with much of the raw material supplied directly from the farm to fork.

It is an extremely large and well-thought out project. The farm is the bedrock of the hotels and its an enterprise every member of the team are rightly very proud of.

Indo Farming