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Teagasc and Dawn Meats, supported by McDonald's and The Irish Farmers Journal have established a stand alone suckler herd at Athenry, Co Galway to demonstrate best practice in sustainable suckler beef production.
The herd, which is known as the Newford Herd, is run on a fully commercial basis and demonstrates the potential of a moderately large suckler beef farm to generate a viable family farm income when operated to the highest level of technical efficiency and best practice.
The farm acts as a shop window for the technologies that drive profitability in a suckler herd and operates in a completely transparent manner, with all measurements and data available to visiting groups, other interested parties and the farming public.
Consists of 100 Angus and Hereford cross Fresian cows, originating from the dairy herd and first calving at 24 months of age. System - 21-23 months steer beef (310-350kg carcase). 18-20 months heifer beef (290-320kg carcase). Newford Farm contract rears all its replacement heifers which are sourced from high index Hereford and Angus bulls.
The Herd has set clear targets:
- 365 calving interval
- 8-10 week calving spread
- 80% cows calved within 8 weeks
- Weaning a calf >50% their own body weight
- Calf mortality to 28 days < 2%
Breeding is based on all available ICBF data. 100% AI is carried out on the farm. Bulls are selected based on the following criteria:
- 5* Terminal Index
- <9% Calving Difficulty for strong mature cows
- <7% Calving Difficulty for mature cows
- <5% for the first & second calvers
- >40kgs predicted carcass weight for mature cows
- >30kgs predicted carcass weight for first calvers
- Reliability of >80%
The farm, located in Newford, Athenry, Co Galway, is laid out in four divisions. The main block of land in Newford is dry, good-quality grassland comprising about 26.72ha (66 acres). This area will be used for grazing suckler cows and calves. The second division (Cones Farm) consists of 18ha (46 acres) of good-quality dry land and is located 12km from the main block. This area will be used to graze yearlings. The third block (Gort na Habhainn), comprising of 13.57ha (33.53 acres) and is about a mile away in the other direction. Land type is heavy in nature. The last block (Tuohys Farm) comprising of 13.03ha (32 acres) and is located 11km from the home farm. The land type is heavy in nature and difficult to manage in heavy rainfall.
There are a number of objectives in the project that is driven by Dawn Meats, Teagasc and the Irish Farmers Journal, and also has backing from McDonalds. The management team is made up of the farm manager and members from Teagasc, Dawn Meats and the Irish Farmers Journal, while the stakeholder team also has farmer representation.
The overriding aim is to generate a high profit from a grass-based suckler-tosteer and heifer-beef production system. There is also a focus on quantifying the labour required to operate a 100-cow unit, while also developing benchmarks and production targets for a herd utilising a breeding policy and cow type that differs from the majority of Irish suckler enterprises.