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Johnstown Castle Research Farm, Co. Wexford

Overview 

Weanlings DBThe Johnstown Castle Beef research unit is located 5km from Wexford Town in the South East of Ireland. It forms part of the Johnstown Castle Estate, where the main centre for the Teagasc Environment programme is located. Also on the estate is the EPA headquarters, Department of Agriculture offices along with a substantial dairy winter milk research farm.

The beef farm is split between two units, namely the beef unit and Kildavin farm. An underpass facilitates the movement of cattle between the two units, as the main road between Piercestown and Murntown divides the beef farm land block.

Beef Farm Manager: Brendan Swan

Location

Latitude 52°17’N, longitude 06°30’W. Elevation 55m.

Area

The beef research farm is divided into two units, the Beef Unit and Kildavin Farm (formerly the Organic Unit). The Beef Unit covers an area of 50.92ha, while Kildavin Farm covers 53.75ha, giving a total of 104.67ha. Of this, 44.3ha are excluded from the beef research trial work currently ongoing in Johnstown Castle. Some of this area is used to graze the Teagasc Grange maternal herd steers and heifers, while some is used for other environmental research and experiments.

Soil type

The distribution pattern of the soils within Johnstown Castle beef farm is complex and varied. The soils range from reasonably free draining Brown Earths to gley soils and other such soils with moderate or poor drainage capacity.

Paddocks

In the beef unit there are 47 paddocks ranging between 0.46 and 2.82ha in size. The Kildavin farm is divided into 51 paddocks, ranging from 0.62 to 2.12ha. The Kildavin farm is divided twice by two public roads. An underpass and farm roadways facilitate the movement of cattle between the farm units.

The two units are run as one farm, which is subdivided into low, medium and high stocking density farmlets for the Herbage allowance trial 2015 -2019.(pdf) There are approximately 26 paddocks not included in this study. The high, medium and low farmlets have 23, 24 and 24 paddocks respectively. These can be seen on the farm map as blue (low stocking rate), green (medium stocking rate) and pink (high stocking rate) colour codes.

Johnstown Castle - Kildavin Farm Map

Johnstown Castle-Beef Unit Farm MapBeef building infrastructure 

Kildavin Unit 

  • Covered cattle crush and drafting facilities.
  • 3 silage pits
  • Calf rearing shed - approximately 150
  • Winter accommodation - 65 finishers and 60 weanlings 

Beef Unit

  • Covered cattle crush and drafting facilities.
  • 2 silage pits
  • Winter accommodation - 350 finishers and 320 weanlings 

 

Animals

Johnstown castle receives 250 calves (at 15 weeks of age) in May/June of each year for the Teagasc/ABP dairy beef programme. These animalsCalves at Feeder Johnstown Castle are also used for the Teagasc Herbage Allowance trial. The animals are kept at Johnstown Castle until slaughter at between 19 and 26 months of age.

In addition to the Dairy Beef Programme animals, the Johnstown Castle beef farm rear approximately 150 calves to graze commercially.

The maternal herd yearlings (~116) are grazed for their second season and wintered in Johnstown castle prior to slaughter - see Genetics and breeds - Rob Prendiville (pdf).

System

Reared calves are typically obtained in May/June. They are let out to grass and supplemented with 1kg of concentrate/head/day. The calves are rehoused in November and fed good quality silage ad lib and 1.5-2kg concentrates, with spring turnout typically the end of February/beginning of March, weather depending.

The aim is to finish the heifers at 19-21months of age (October/November), being fed 2.5 kg concentrate DM for 60 days pre-slaughter. The steers are finished between 21 and 26 months of age. 

Steers that are not fit for slaughter at 21 months are housed for their second winter when target closing farm pasture cover is reached, or as dictated by weather conditions (October/November). The indoor feeding programme includes ad lib silage. Those that remain to be finished after the second winter are turned out in March (weather depending) and typically killed in June after 100 days at pasture.

Current Experiments

On the Johnstown Castle beef farm, there are two experiments running concurrently;

The Teagasc/ABP dairy beef programme (2015-2020) 

The current Teagasc/ABP dairy beef programme builds on the previous Teagasc Dairy Beef production systems trial work completed from 2010 to 2015. The aim is to identify the most suitable beef bull genetics for crossing on the dairy herd, to genetically improve main breeds supplying beef bulls to dairy herd, and thereby improve the efficiency and profitability of dairy beef production. 

Read more:

The ICBF with their Gene Ireland dairy beef programme (PDF) play an important part in the programme, enabling the distribution of dairy beef straws to dairy farmers as well as carrying out performance testing of progeny from the programme in their centre in Tully, Co. Kildare.

Herbage Allowance Trial (2015-2019)

The aim of this trial is to establish the optimum herbage allowance that can increase the carcass output, while also investigating the environmental impacts of reducing the herbage allocation. 

Previous Experiments

Previous research at carried out at Johnstown Castle since 2010 has evaluated the performance of dairy calves across varying production systems. These trials included:

  • Male dairy calf to beef production systems
  • Early maturing calf to beef production systems
  • The supplementation of calves during their first season at grass

The purpose of these studies was to establish profitable blueprints of production for producers.  The trials included dairy bull, steer and heifer systems, and early maturing heifer and steer systems.

Concentrate supplementation to calves during their first season at pasture

A research study was conducted to evaluate the influence and potential benefits of additional concentrate supplementation to calves during their first season at pasture. (PDF).

Alternative finishing strategies for male Friesian calves

Finding the optimal targets and production blueprints, and ultimately the most profitable system, for male dairy calves has been a large focus of the dairy beef research. The performance results, profitability and blueprints for optimum systems are outlined here Alternative finishing strategies for male Friesian calves (PDF).  

Production systems for early maturing crossbred calves

The early maturing dairy calf-to-beef trials investigated the effects of date of birth (early and late spring born) and slaughter age of both steers and heifers in low input pasture based production systems. The performance results, profitability and blueprints for optimum systems are outlined here Production systems for early maturing crossbred calves (PDF).

Herbage production of calf to beef production systems

A key element of profitable dairy calf-to-beef and early maturing crossbred systems is the efficient utilisation of grazed grass. The variation in the feed budgets for grass, grass silage and concentrates for each production system can be found here Herbage production calf to beef (PDF).