Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Why this beef farmer has bitten the bullet on an eight-paddock grazing system

Cattle grazing at Ballyloughan Castle in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow. Photo: Roger Jones
Cattle grazing at Ballyloughan Castle in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow. Photo: Roger Jones
John Heney's cattle have settled down well. Stock photo

John Heney

My curiosity has certainly been aroused by the ongoing debate surrounding the advantages and efficiencies of an eight paddock grazing system.

I decided that it could be very interesting to see how this system would work on my own grass-only store to beef-finishing system.

I realised that as I have only seen this system used on land subjected to high inputs of nitrogen it might not be that simple to adapt to my own four-paddock system as recovery times would be different and perhaps difficult to achieve.

Some may wonder at my Road To Damascus type conversion, but I was principally attracted by the idea of carrying extra stock and achieving extra weight gain at no extra cost. I decided to press ahead with the idea a few weeks ago.

Armed with numerous rolls of light wire and a large number of temporary electric fence posts, I set about subdividing one of my current paddock systems into an eight paddock unit.

Initially, all this subdivision seemed like a fairly challenging task, but with a bit of imagination and some lateral thinking in relation to issues such as water supply I eventually achieved my objective of having eight equally sized paddocks all with good access to water.

As more than half of the grazing season is already over, it will be impossible to draw any real conclusions this year.

However, after showing some initial surprise at being confined to a smaller grazing area, the cattle have settled down well and appear quite pleased with their more frequent changes onto fresh grass.

Also Read

The reason I decided to change to the system mid- term was so that I could iron out any glitches which might arise and be better prepared for next year when I hope to put up a more permanent system if things work out as expected.

I would sound one note of warning - the cattle which appear to be doing best this year are a small group of cattle which only have access to a very simple two paddock system.

However, I feel that their good performance may be down to the fact that they were amongst some of the strongest of my cattle coming out of the shed.

Speaking about how well or not my cattle are doing this summer, overall I am quite happy at their progress so far but of course the real test will be when I sell the first load.

I would be very pleased if they come any way close to last years performance where I actually ended up with a few of my Friesian cattle grading over fat, which I felt was excellent on a simple grass diet.

Unlike all of the favourable reports I hear about grass growth this year, I am struggling somewhat with grass supply.

In fact I was very fortunate to be able to incorporate after grass into my system in mid June.

Otherwise I would have been in real trouble.

Grass supply had gotten so tight for me that in the last year or so I was looking at reducing my stock numbers as I felt that I may have miscalculated my stocking rates when I readjusted my system a couple of years ago.

This is the main reason why I am trying out the new paddock system. Hopefully it should help to more than overcome any stocking rate issues I am currently experiencing.

From a farming perspective I found it really interesting that the Central Statistics Office (CSO) has recently replaced Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) with a new statistical way of quantifying our national income, it is called Modified Gross National Income or GNI.

Apparently the GNI system gives a much clearer picture of our real national income as it deals with the multinationals by stripping out the profits of the redomiciled companies. It factors in the high cost of imported raw materials needed to produce many exports.


It appears that agriculture exports should fare much better under this new system, and perhaps none more so than traditional dairy-based grass-finishing beef systems such as mine.

In just 30 months, this system turns a much maligned by-product of the dairy sector (Friesian bull calf) into a valuable finished beef animal worth well over a thousand euro.

In my own situation, under the GNI system, my zero use of imported feed and my minimal use of imported fertiliser in the "finishing" process means that nearly all of the export price - probably a multiple of the price I receive for my cattle - goes straight back into the Irish economy in the form of jobs in the processing sector and also employment in our service industry sectors.

Just as importantly it also provides an income for people like myself.

Maybe now would be a good time to have a look at the some of the intensive farm production systems which are continually being promoted by people in the agri-business sectors and which rely so heavily on the importation of vast amounts of expensive farm inputs.

It would be nice to know who really gains from these costly imports at the end of the day?

John Heney farms in Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming

More in Beef