'The plate-meter is a great job'
Published 06/05/2015 | 02:30
The last four years have been something of a revelation in Neil Boland's farming career.
In 2011, the 37 year-old came back to the 60ac home farm just inland from Enniscrone on the Sligo north coast, after many years working as a roofer in the construction industry
Two things happened in Neil's farming life over the subsequent 12 months - he joined the beef discussion group set up in his area through the BTAP programme, and he started interacting with dairy farmers that wanted him to contract-rear replacements.
"I only realised the true potential of my farm when I joined these discussion groups," said Boland. "I started measuring grass, and discovered that some fields were producing 15t of drymatter per hectare, while others were doing just half of that.
"It was only then that I realised that the dairy lads were even further ahead, so I'm part of mixed dairy and beef group now, called a grass measuring pod. I find it brilliant, training up both my eye and brain to know what grass is in front of them today, and how much they've got ahead of them for the next three weeks.
"The plate-meter is a great job - I was lucky enough to get that by volunteering an hour of my time to measure grass and input data on weekly grass growth on my farm into Teagasc's PastureBase initiative.
"It's really given me the confidence to graze down tight and push my stocking rates, because I know what's ahead of them for so many days ahead. But it still takes a bit of balls to make the leap, I suppose because nobody wants to be seen making mistakes trying new methods. That's one advantage of being young perhaps."
Despite the exposed nature of the Sligo coastline, he has weeks when his grass-growth is just as good as anywhere else in the country.
"I could see during the dry spells in other parts of the country last summer that many farms fell back on growth in the PastureBase system, whereas we were toe-to-toe with the best in the country at 100kgDM/ha per day," he said.
He will rear 80 replacements, along with 20 suckler cows and their calves on 125ac, over half of which is rented.
The farm is very fragmented in five separate blocks. Up to 15pc of the farm is now being reseeded annually, however low soil indexes of 2 and pH levels at 5.3 are challenges that Neil has yet to overcome. Cows numbers are being cut every year as the contract rearing element develops.
"It's more profitable than the suckler cows, and the cash-flow is more regular. But I'm reluctant to put all my eggs in that basket," he said.