Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

Teagasc vows to put Grange herd back on track

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Teagasc's head of animal and grassland research, Pat Dillon, has vowed to right the wrongs of the floundering beef research programme at Grange, Co Meath.

The Teagasc boss also indicated that staff changes will follow from the blunders made at the research farm.

This follows the news that a series of errors will see nearly half of the Derrypatrick herd at Teagasc's beef centre in Grange being culled. The 122-strong herd of heifers has been assembled since 2008 at a cost of around €1,000 each. However, due to a combination of is management and fertility issues, only 60pc of the herd are now back in-calf.

Basic farm management principles were ignored when first-calf heifers were artificially inseminated on their first cycle after calving. Standard practice is to let first-calvers cycle at least once before starting a breeding programme.


It has also emerged that two Belgian Blue stock-bulls, bought at a cost of more than €14,000, were introduced to the herd just two weeks before they were put to work. It now turns out that one of the bulls failed to get any of the cows pregnant.

"The farmer that we bought the bulls from said he had calves on the ground from both of the bulls and we don't dispute that," said Mr Dillon.

"There's no doubt that mistakes were made but lessons will be learned from this episode."

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The Teagasc boss also pulled no punches on the level of management in Grange. "There's huge scope for improved performance not only at Grange but in the whole beef industry. Cows were only coming back into heat 50 days after calving," he said. "The normal target in dairy herds is 20-24 days. This points to wider fertility issues inherant in the national beef herd."

The key to raising the bar, in Mr Dillon's mind, is getting the right personnel in place. "The day-to-day management of the Derrypatrick herd will have to change. There's an embargo on recruitment but we will be working on having different farm staff in place by next year."


Mr Dillon also wants to implement a new model on the herd similar to the management at the Greenfield dairy project in Kilkenny, where key stakeholders and mentors meet on site every three to four weeks with the farm management. Currently, stakeholders at Grange meet around three to four times a year.

When quizzed about the application for a new €135,000 shed for the herd, Mr Dillon said that this proposal was never seriously considered for funding by Teagasc, pointing to the fact that extra facilities would not be necessary in the short-term with the reduction in the overall size of the herd.

Despite all the problems with the project, Mr Dillon was adamant that Teagasc would remain as committed as ever to it.

"The beef industry is too important for us not to make this work. We have to get it right because there are parts of the country that will always be reliant on beef production. Our job is to show how to do it profitably."

A new stakeholders sub-group met to discuss the issue yesterday.

Irish Independent