Mary McEvoy works with Germinal and is a council member of the Irish Grassland Association. Mary, along with Gabriel Trayers of Teagasc, Galway, describe an upcoming farm walk near Tuam that focuses on maximising the potential to grow and utilise grass.
Later this month, the Irish Grassland Association (IGA) is hosting an event that will focus on grazing infrastructure to improve grass utilisation. It will be held on Wednesday, April 25, on the farm of Billy Gilmore, Tuam, Co Galway. The objective is to demonstrate options and costings for improving grazing infrastructure on grass farms and will focus on water, fencing, paddock layouts and roadways, with the ultimate goal of achieving higher grass dry matter (DM) production and improved utilisation of grass.
Contract rearing dairy heifers
Billy Gilmore is a former participant in the BETTER Beef Farm programme. Billy and his son, Martin, farm in partnership in Cortoon, just 10km outside Tuam in Co Galway. Billy farms over 55 hectares, which is fragmented into 10 parcels. It comprises owned and rented lands which are relatively dry, however approximately 20 hectares (ha) could be described as heavy and liable to some flooding in winter/spring.
In the past two years, the farm has changed from suckler cows and selling weanlings to contract rearing heifers for a local dairy farmer and the Newford herd in Athenry. In 2018, there will be 116 yearlings reared, with another 26-30 coming in May. Billy also has a sheep enterprise, lambing 160 ewes this spring. The farm stocking rate has increased considerably since 2009, from 1.2 live units (LU)/ha to approximately 2 LU/ha at present. Since 2009, gross output has increased from €789/ha to €1425/ha, with a corresponding increase in gross margin from €538/ha to €1395/ha. Billy has focused on a low-cost, grass-based system in order to keep variable costs low.
Changes delivering high-quality grass
Some of the changes Billy has implemented on his farm to achieve this improved performance include weekly farm walks, optimum pre-grazing yields and grazing to a residual of 3.5cm, resulting in more high-quality grass in the diet and better utilisation of this grass. Ultimately, he has achieved this by splitting large fields into paddocks with better placement of water troughs, allowing for easier grazing management and better control of grass on the farm. The paddock system allows easier management of the stock on the farm.
At the event, Billy will discuss the decisions he made regarding paddock size and fencing options. Through improving the infrastructure on his farm and the associated increase in grass production and stocking rate, Billy has been able to reduce the amount of land he rents.
Improving grass utilisation
The Terra Services-sponsored farm walk will include leading experts who will give advice on a range of topics relevant to the infrastructure of the farm that will result in improved grass utilisation. An important aspect of the event will be to highlight the various options available regarding water, roadways, fencing and paddock layouts, and a breakdown of the costs associated with each of these.
Key decisions for a grassland farmer
Host farmer Billy and his Teagasc advisor, Gabriel Trayers, will outline the history of the farm, including grass production and utilisation, farm layout and soil fertility profile. Animal performance targets will also be discussed. Catherine Egan from Teagasc will describe good practice guidelines and options, and financial costings for improving grazing infrastructure, including water, fencing, paddock layouts and roadways.
Billy will also describe decisions he made relating to the farm infrastructure including the options available to him and the reasons for his decisions, as well as describing how the system works for his farm. There are several low-cost options to improve farm infrastructure and increase grass utilisation, and these will be the key focus of a discussion on infrastructure requirements to maximise grass utilisation.
The summer grazing season
Bridget Lynch from University College Dublin (UCD) will discuss summer grassland management to maximise grass utilisation. Topics discussed will include ideal grazing covers, grass allocation, and target rotation lengths to achieve performance targets for various animal groups. Starting at 10am, the IGA-organised event on the Gilmore farm is located north-east of Tuam and will be signposted off the N83.