The ability to influence and inspire suppliers and customers is vitally important, if we are to continue making the necessary improvements in production systems to maintain Ireland and the UK’s leadership position in sustainability. As a grass based livestock producing region, addressing the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and rising input costs are key to the sustainability of our industry.
We have always been at the forefront of research and development in agriculture, partnering with leading academic institutions, commercial partners and industry bodies. Our Demonstration Farms are an important part of our agricultural strategy, seeking to find the best way of producing sustainable, quality beef.
Inspire sustainable farming to foster better animal health and welfare, enhance meat quality and restore biodiversity, soil health and water quality.
Goal: To drive and demonstrate efficiencies in sustainable Irish steer and heifer suckler beef production.
Newford was established in 2015 in Athenry, County Galway, to showcase best practice in sustainable suckler beef production. The farm is operated by Dawn Meats and supported by McDonald’s, with independent technical advice provided by Teagasc and supported by our media partner in the project, The Irish Farmers Journal. The farm operates on a full commercial basis, acting as a shop window for technologies that drive efficiencies in a suckler herd, with all measurements and data shared publicly through various media channels. To date more than 8,000 farmers have visited the farm and gained insights into sustainable beef production. The Herd consists of 100 Angus and Hereford cross Friesian cows, differing from the typical suckler herd, bred for their docility, fertility traits and first calving at 24 months.
Goal: To operate and demonstrate a profitable dairy calf to beef production system on farm while reducing the total environmental footprint of a pasture-based production system.
In 2022, in partnership with Teagasc and Shinagh Estates, we established a Dairy Calf to Beef Demonstration Farm, building on the learnings from multiple calf to beef projects undertaken between Teagasc and Dawn Meats since 2008. The farm consists of 112 ha of grazing infrastructure and slatted floor housing which will allow the dairy calf to beef unit to take all sourced calves and finish to the required livestock specification which meets market requirements.
Tipperary will complement the work of existing programs such as the Signpost Farm Program, Grass10 and ASSAP. Over a 7-year period, it will produce a blueprint for cross-disciplinary teams to engage with farmers on profitable dairy-beef production systems based on technologies and practices which improve forage quality and utilisation, reduce nutrient losses and emissions, enhance farm biodiversity and animal health & welfare.
SUSTAINABILITY TARGETS AND ACTIONS
Showing how improvements in farm efficiencies, animal health and welfare contribute to lower variable costs can help to incentivise the adoption of new sustainable practices. Our Demonstration Farms will aim to show that a competitive return on the capital and labour employed can be achieved by deploying the following regenerative practices and technologies:
- Operate a financially sustainable business and reduce variable costs
- Intensive management of pasture & use of clover etc… ensuring animals have access to high quality forage
- Tactical supplementation with concentrates, with a focus on maximizing gain from forage
- Efficient use of fertilizer to ensure a long grass growing & utilization season
- A herd health plan to minimise morbidity & use of antibiotics and anthelmintics
Progress: Newford has reduced its variable costs as a percentage of total output from 74% in 2015 to 45% in 2020, due to significant improvements in animal health and lower veterinary expenses. In 2021, variable costs as a percentage of total output increased to 58% due to the impact of inflation.
Reduced Age at Slaughter
This is a key action to reduce on farm emissions.
From a 2015 baseline Newford had an original target to increase carcase weights from 280kgs to 330 kgs for heifers and from 295kgs to 365kgs for steers in the period to 2022.
Progress: In 2021 Newford achieved 311kg for heifers and 357kg for steers, providing strong evidence of the benefits of improved grassland management and genetics. Age at slaughter was reduced by 1 month on heifers and 2 months on steers, to 20 months. In the first half of 2022, age at slaughter was further reduced to 17.5 months for heifers at a carcase weight of 290kg, all 100% grass-fed.
Dairy Beef calves finished at Ballyvadin have a target weight of 280kgs to a minimum of fat score 2+ and confirmation of O or better. Both demonstration farms are now working to further reduce finishing age and maintain market specification weights within a range of 280-360kgs.
Breeding Approach – Calving Interval and Calving Spread
Every day a cow is not carrying or rearing a calf increases the cost of production and reduces farm output, and a shorter calving internal is a sign of good fertility in a herd. It also is a additional contributor to methane emissions. A shorter breeding programme or calving spread reduces labour requirements and enables better grazing management.
Our Demonstration Farms have a target to exceed the national average calving interval of 395 days and achieve an 8-10 week calving spread.
Progress: In 2021 Newford achieved a 358-day calving interval, supported by the adaption of new technologies in heat detection, and produced 0.99 calves per cow. 98% of cows were calved without veterinary assistance. A 10-week calving spread was achieved due to the adoption of 100% AI using straws carefully selected to achieve the right balance between calving ease and good carcase growth.
Reduce the use of Antibiotics and Anthelmintics
The Farm to Fork strategy has set a target to reduce the use sale of antimicrobials by 50% by 2030.
- A benchmark for the use of both antibiotics and anthelmintics will be established
- Pasture management will be optimised to minimise the use of anthelmintics
- There will be a strict calf pneumonia programme
Optimising grassland management to improve soil fertility, grass quality, therefore maximising the number of livestock grazing days in a year help to reduce farm emissions.
We have are targeting in excess of 200 days at grass per year.
Progress: Newford has a high stocking rate of 2.7 livestock units per hectare and in 2021 an average of 280 days at grass was achieved as compared to the 6-year average in Ireland of 233 days, resulting in a reduction in concentrated feed requirements, housing and straw usage.
Implement Mitigation Strategies that Reduce the Impact of Dairy-Beef Farming on Climate Change
The agricultural technologies/strategies outlined in the Teagasc Greenhouse Gas MACC will be used to mitigate the impact of dairy-beef farming on climate change. These include:
- Promote the use of Sexed Semen for breeding Dairy Heifer replacements
- Promote the need to genotype the national herd
- Use high DBI beef genetics
- Inclusion of white clover in swards to reduce chemical N requirements
- All slurry applied using Low Emissions Slurry Spreading (LESS) methods
- All chemical N applied as protected urea
- Use of low crude protein concentrate feeds
Incorporate a Proportion of the Farms into High-Diversity Landscape Features
Wildlife measures on intensive grassland farms can play an important role in halting the decline of biodiversity and achieving the goals of sustainable agriculture. The farm already has a significant amount of natural and semi-natural habitats and a biodiversity plan will be developed to:
- Maintain and mange existing habitats appropriately
- Improve the quality of existing hedgerows
- Install riparian buffer strips of permanent vegetation adjacent to the existing streams and pond; avoid fertiliser, slurry or herbicide application
- Establish new habitats where appropriate
Implement Mitigation Strategies to Reduce Ammonia Emissions
The agricultural technologies/strategies outlined in the Teagasc Ammonia MACC will be used to mitigate the impact of dairy-beef farming on ammonia emissions. These include:
- Use low crude protein concentrate
- Inclusion of white clover in existing pastures to reduce chemical N levels
- All slurry to be applied using LESS methods and chemical N applied as protected urea
Reduce Nutrient Losses to Waterways
Nitrogen and phosphorus are key nutrient inputs into grassland systems and can be applied by either organic or chemical fertilizer. The soluble P and soil particles can be washed into drainage networks and streams located on farms impacting on water quality. A stream which runs through the Ballyvadin farm will be monitored for this purpose and mitigation strategies on the farm will include:
- Minimise point source pollution from buildings, farmyards and farm roadways
- Minimise diffuse source pollution from drainage/runoff using good slurry/fertiliser application practices
- Adopt the use of riparian buffer zones adjacent to watercourses
We are partners to the Signpost Programme in Ireland, a collaborative partnership of farmers, industry and State Agencies, working together for climate action. The programme is led by Teagasc and extends to 100 demonstration farms across the country, including Newford and Ballyvadin. The purpose of the programme is to support climate action by Irish farmers to continue reducing emissions, improve water quality and support biodiversity, while reducing costs and creating more profitable and sustainable farming enterprises. Participating farms will measure the impact of various practices on carbon sequestration.