Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Fodder beet grazing system provides food for thought

A fodder beat winter system is paying dividends

Paddy O'Brien Teagasc advisor, Ned Morrissey host farmer and Paul Crosson, IGA president, at the recent IGA sheep event on the Morrissey at Dunhill, Co Waterford
Paddy O'Brien Teagasc advisor, Ned Morrissey host farmer and Paul Crosson, IGA president, at the recent IGA sheep event on the Morrissey at Dunhill, Co Waterford
John Fagan

John Fagan

Ned Morrissey farms 370 ewes on his 30-hectare farm at Dunhill, Co Waterford. At roughly 13 ewes/ha, it's an intensive farming system by any standards. What is intriguing about his system is that he does it without housing most of his sheep and lambing his ewes outdoors apart from the triplets and singles.

It's a low cost, low labour system which returned a profit margin of €876/ha last year. The key to his enterprise's success is that each year he sows two hectares of fodder beet on which he strip grazes his 370 ewes from November till mid February.

The farm is divided up into 18 paddocks so he rotates the fodder beet crop around the farm reseeding as he goes.

This strategy enables him to remain highly stocked and profitable.

He gradually introduces the sheep to the crop in November, letting them in for an hour at first and then building it up to five hours per day as the sheep get used to the crop.

They are moved back on to what he calls a 'lie-back' area which is essentially the paddock adjacent to the fodder crop.

Here the sheep have access to minerals and silage if they need it, and this same paddock is the one that is used for the following year's beet crop, while the other one is reseeded.

Once he is finished grazing the ewes on the fodder beet in mid February, the ewes are separated out into their various groups.

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The triplets are separated and housed and the doubles are sent to a neighbouring dairy farm in the two weeks prior to lambing before returning to lamb in the remaining fields closed off since the previous October.

What I found interesting was that the doubles receive no extra feeding other than what they get off the fodder beet.

The triplets were introduced to meal and the singles remained on the fodder beet practically until lambing starts, leaving dry hoggets on what remained of the beet crop to finish it off.

"Beet gives me more flexibility and there is far less work with it than housing ewes for this long of a winter," says Ned. "Plans have to be put in place in advance to get the best fit for your farm. You also need a bit of luck with weather to get high utilization of the beet and a site that isn't prone to frost, as exposed beet will rot in successive heavy frosts."

The crop is expensive to grow as beet requires a lot of fertiliser to get the most from the crop. Fertiliser costs are broken down as follows:

€100 for five bags of 10-10-20

€60 for four bags of CAN

€45 cost for spreading 4,500 gallons of pig slurry.

The seed costs €56/ac and sprays are also pricey at €78/ac, which includes slug and leather jacket treatments. Although Ned has his own machinery, this still costs €164/ac, bringing the total cost of growing the crop to €503/ac.

Ned also recommends using the 'Janon' seed variety. This is the easiest to graze as the root is above ground and easier for the sheep to get at.

The recent Irish Grassland Association tour of Ned's farm certainly left a lot of farmers weighing up the benefits.

The biggest challenge for any farming enterprise is getting through the winter as cheaply as possible and strip grazing fodder beet might just be the key for many sheep farmers.

As Ned pointed out he had experimented with other forage crops such as kale, rape and swedes, but beet out-performed them all, growing roughly 35t/ac with a high dry matter content leaving his ewes in super condition prior to lambing.

Frost damage is the only issue that would concern me coming from the midlands, we get a frost that most coastal counties don't.

Finally, many thanks to Ned Morrissey, his family and the IGA for hosting this informative event.

Indo Farming