The benefits, setting up and development costs of installing a paddock system were outlined at the recent farm walk on the farm of Joe Farrell, Castledermot, Co. Kildare.
Joe's plan is to drive the amount of beef produced on his farm. In doing this he will increase the performance of each individual animal and he will also have a higher stocking rate.
To achieve an increased stocking rate of one livestock unit per hectare from the start of the programme to when it is completed, Joe will need to produce at least three extra tonnes of grass dry matter per hectare. A paddock system will play a critical role in achieving this.
In early 2015, Joe ran a set stocking system where there were five different groups of stock and seven grazing divisions. This meant that a group of 25 to 30 animals were put into a field at the start of the grazing season and left there until housing.
Having identified the benefits that a paddock system could bring to his farm, Joe now has the farm divided up into 32 grazing divisions. With between four to five grazing groups, this allows between six and seven grazing divisions per group which is ideal.
The paddock system now provides Joe with better control of his grazing ground, where animals are always going into high quality leafy grass.
The paddocks allow the grass to be rested and grazed with the aim of growing the grass in three weeks and eating it in three days.
This ensures that there will be more grass produced and utilised over the grazing season.
Excess grass can now be easily taken out as high quality baled silage.
Coupled with weekly grass measuring, Joe is now more confident in his grassland management decisions.
Being able to see how much grass is ahead allows him to make decisions as to whether paddocks can be removed as excess silage or if there is a need to spread fertiliser.
During the walk on Joe Farrell’s farm, the costs associated with developing a 14 acre field into four individual paddocks was outlined. The adjoining table shows the breakdown of the costs which work out at €4 per acre when spread over 10 years.
The overall benefits of a paddock system are that for every extra one ton of grass dry matter grown, there is a benefit of up to €160 per hectare. This would recover the costs of establishing the paddocks in just one year.
Other benefits include, more stock grazed, less housing required as there is a shorter time to slaughter, more beef produced, reduced meal required for finishing, and increased margins.
Joe emphasised the importance of putting in a paddock system on his farm. Due to the paddocks, his farm is now growing a lot more quality grass. Grass is grazed now at the correct time when it is nice and leafy and of high quality.
The management of fields has become a lot easier as surplus grass can be taken out and be saved as high quality baled silage. Joe can now plan to get a large percentage of his weight gain coming from grazed grass and this will help with reducing the meal bill for the finishing phase. Grass is the greatest resource on his farm and the more weight gain that he can achieved from grazed grass the more profitable his calf to beef system can become.
Gordon Peppard is programme advisor for the Teagasc Calf to Beef Programme