Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics

College Farm Enterprises

Enterprise information 2022

Dairy | Forestry | BeefSheep

Dairy Enterprise

The dairy unit at Ballyhaise College is used as both a practical learning facility for students and a research farm. The current research programme is investigating the potential profitability of dairy systems for farms in the northern half of the country. Because Ireland exports a large proportion of the dairy products it produces Irish dairy farmers will be exposed to world market dairy prices. This will cause milk price to vary from season to season and therefore farmers must be able to make a profit even at a low milk price. Our competitive advantage is our ability to grow large quantities of high quality grass which can be harvested by grazing cows at low cost. Many farmers in the region cite issues such as high rainfall, steep slopes and wet soils as the main disadvantages of producing milk in this region. The purpose of the research project is to identify the main factors affecting profitability of dairy farms within the region namely, grass production and utilisation, milk production and herd fertility.

In recent years the focus of the project has broadened to attempt to address some of the environmental and animal welfare issues facing the industry. Strategies such as the use of sexed semen, using high DBI AI to produce better quality beef calves from the dairy herd have been incorporated into the breeding programme. Our focus is still on achieving a compact calving pattern in spring, producing high EBI replacement heifers from our best cows but also improving the quality of the surplus calves being generated. From an environmental point of view the use of LESS slurry spreading equipment, protected urea and min-till cultivation at reseeding are being used to reduce nutrient losses to water and air. On top of these strategies a multiyear farm systems trial is currently underway to assess the process of converting the farm to clover swards to reduce our reliance on purchased chemical Nitrogen (N) while also reducing N purchased in concentrates. The target is to reduce purchased N by 75% while maintaining productivity.

Students attending the college are exposed to this research on a daily basis

Production system

The herd is a 120 cow spring calving herd with moderate feed inputs of 850kg of meal per cow. The cows are calved compactly in spring where calving starts in the first week of February and 80% of the herd is calved by the 20th of March, with all cows calved by the end of April. Cows are turned out to grass as they calve and are fed a grass based diet. Grass is measured and budgeted weekly, other feeds such as meal or silage are used during periods of grass shortage. The whole farm stocking rate on the farm is 2.0 cows / ha (120 cows on 58ha) and milking platform stocking rate is 2.3 cows / ha. The grazing season extends from mid-February to early November (250 - 270 days at grass). The average grass production on the farm is 14 tons DM / ha / year, however this can vary from 11 tons up to 15 tons depending on weather conditions. Cows are grazed in paddocks on a rotational grazing system, in mid-season they rotate around the paddocks every 18 - 21 days. 

Herd Genetics

We have been using high EBI genetics since 2005 with particular focus on fertility and milk solids production. The EBI of the herd is €191 January 2022. The overall herd is ranked in the top 5% nationally for EBI.

In addition to EBI, crossbreeding has been used to breed cows suitable for a grazing system. About 2/3 of the herd are crossbred animals with the remainder being high EBI Friesian. In recent years genomic testing has been used to identify the best cows to breed off and also the best sires. Any Jersey semen used is sexed to reduce the number of very small bull calves. The crossbred animals are smaller and easier to maintain, they produce less milk per cow but the milk is higher in fat and protein and therefore is more valuable to the processor and achieve a higher milk price per litre.

Milk production

In 2021 the milk sold was 5,527 litres / cow @ 4.62% fat and 3.65% protein (471kg of milk solids / cow) on an average 850kg concentrate fed per cow. The herd is achieving 1 cent / litre above the top 10% of producers in Lakeland dairies through high milk constituents. The target is to produce 500kg MS on a similar level of feed inputs. SCC is high at 166,000 and the target is to reduce this to an average of 100,000.

Herd fertility

Good herd fertility is an essential component of a profitable dairy system as cows must calve down in spring just before the onset of peak grass production in order to convert this high quality forage to saleable milk product. The genetics of the herd are heavily weighted towards fertility (€84 fert sub index) and management is focused on compact calving pattern and a 365 day calving interval. Good fertility performance has been consistently achieved over the past decade however with more beef genetics and sexed semen usage this has become more challenging. Our calving pattern and calving interval have remaining on target (361 days in 2021) but empty rates have climbed from 10% up to high teens which is an issue going forward.

Farm infrastructure

The farm is well equipped with a modern 12 unit herringbone milking parlour which has auto ID, milk recording and drafting facilities and auto heat detection collars. There are 140 cubicles for cows and a further 30 cubicles for yearling heifers. There is a large straw bedded area for calving beside the cubicles and calf accommodation for 60 calves. An over ground slurry store has been erected for dirty water and parlour washings etc. An extensive network of farm roadways aid grazing management (particularly in wet weather). 

Forestry in Ballyhaise College

There are 46.4 ha of forestry in Ballyhaise College, broken down into 38 plots. Average plot size is 1.1 ha. There are 14.8 ha of Coniferous High Forest (CHF); 15.1 ha of Broadleaf High Forest (BHF); 13.4 ha of Mixed High Forest (MHF); 0.8 ha Agro Forestry and 2.3 ha of Biodiversity. Table 1 outlines the main tree species growing and gives an indication of growth potential.

Table 1 - Main tree species and their productivity



Yield Class




Yield Class



Quercus robur


Sitka spruce**

Picea sitchensis



Fraxinus excelsior


Norway Spruce

Picea abies



Acer pseudoplatanus


Douglas Fir




Red Oak

Quercus rubra


Scots pine

Pinus sylvestris


Norway Maple

Acer plantanoides


European larch

Larix decidua



Alnus glutinosa


Japanese larch

Larix kaempferi


*Yield Class is a measure of the productivity of a stand of trees. It is the maximum mean annual volume increment which a particular stand can achieve.

**Queen Charlotte Island (QCI) provenance of Sitka spruce is planted due to early/late frosts.

The main soil groups found are Brown earths, Grey brown podzolics, Gleys and inter drumlin Peat.

The College woodlands are primarily an open class room for the forestry students. All work in the woodlands is carried out by the students which allow them to practice and consolidate the skills they have learned. The main silvicultural system practiced is the clear cut system.  The woods do generate a periodic income, particularly when plots are clear felled. All felled plots are replanted immediately with a mixture of at least 2 to 3 species, were possible. All favourable natural regeneration is encouraged. Some of the larger plots are being converted to Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF).

The small blocks of woodland allows for “experimentation” with management and silvicultural practices. They include:

  • Group mixtures of Oak with Norway spruce
  • Under planting European larch with Hornbeam and Western hemlock
  • Filling in Sitka spruce with Alder on heavy frost prone sites
  • Reforestation clearfelled Norway spruce sites with Oak and Scots pine
  • Under planting mature Oak with young Oak and encouraging natural regeneration of Ash and Cherry
  • Encouraging natural stands of Alder
  • Pure blocks of Sitka spruce, Ash and Sycamore

All felling is carried out by chainsaws and extraction by winch or tractor and forwarder trailer. Old motor manual harvesting designs are practiced (used prior to the advent of mechanical harvesting). They are better suited to the small plots being harvested. Table 2 gives an indication of the common pests and diseases that are found in the woodlands.

Table 2 - Common Pest and Diseases





Butt rot

Heterobasidion annosum

Pine weevil

Hylobius abietis

Honey fungus

Armillaria spp.

Black Pine Beetles

Hylastes spp.

Ash canker

Pseudomonas syringae

Green Spruce aphid

Elatobium abietinum

Dutch Elm disease

Ophiostoma nova-ulmi

Woolly aphid

Adelges cooleyi

There is no Phytophthora ramorum in the college.

There are healthy populations of fauna and flora found within the woodlands. Table 3 gives an on overview of some that can be found.

Table 3 - Fauna and Flora in Ballyhaise





Male Fern



Bat spp.

Hart’s tongue fern

Fox gloves


Red squirrel

Wood anemone

Ragged Robin

Pine marten


Herb Robert

Willow herb


Tree creeper

Wild garlic




Forestry Research Trials 

There are 2 active research trials and 3 terminated trials in the college. This research is carried out by Teagasc’s Forestry Development Dept. Table 4 gives an outline of the trials.

Table 4 - Forestry Research Trials



Ash trials

Testing native clones for form, vigour, branch habit, apical dominance (terminated)


“Speckled” Silver birch – German provenance (terminated)

Sitka spruce

Testing Oregon, Washington and QCI provenances


Comparing flushing and senescence dates of different tree species

Poplar trials

Comparing different clones of poplars (terminated)

There are two Agro-forestry plots consisting of Black Walnut, Common Walnut, Oak, Sycamore and Wild Cherry. Trees are planted at 5m x 5m spacing and protected. The field is grazed with calves/lambs. The idea is to fully utilise the ground. The trees as they mature will provide shelter for the stock. Some shading will occur, reducing grass growth; however research has shown that the sheltered environment created, results in livestock not having the same energy requirements as they would need in an open field.  Gradual thinning of the trees should allow sufficient light for continued grass growth.

Christmas Trees

There are a number of small plots of Christmas trees. Table 5 summarizes the tree species planted to date. Nordmann Fir appears to be the best choice for soil types in this area. It tolerates heavier soils and responds well to shaping. Site conditions are not favourable for Noble Fir as the soils are too heavy. Trees are grown on an 8 year rotation. There are a number of trees planted each year.

Table 5 - Christmas trees

Tree species


Noble fir

Abies procera

Nordmann fir

Abies nordmanniana

Frazer fir

Abies fraseri

Korean fir

Abies koreana

Colorado blue spruce

Picea pungens

Norway spruce

Picea abies


Beef Enterprise

The land can be described as typical drumlin soil type, which is very characteristic of the area.  They are a mixture of acid brown earths, gleys and alluvial soils which require careful management especially in times of wet weather. 

The Suckler Herd consists of 40 continental cross cows and their replacements.  All the progeny are reared to beef.  There are many advantages to using continental cross cows in a suckling system.  Some examples of these are higher growth rates, better conformation, heavier carcase weights, higher lean meat content and possibly higher cull cow values.  The main breed of cows in the herd are Charolais, Limousin and Simmental. 

The Suckler Herd is 100% Spring Calving. The herd calves during the period February to April (12 weeks).  The national target for the calving season (i.e. all cows calving down) is three months for every Suckler farm.  We aim to calve down 80% of the cows in the first 6 weeks of the calving season.  All Spring Calving cows calve indoors.  They are housed over the winter on slatted accommodation and moved to calving pens prior to calving.  After calving the cow is moved back onto slats and the calf has free access to straw bedded area for lying while having access to the cow to suckle. 

A lot of emphasis over the last number of years has gone into improving the maternal traits of the herd by improved selection of bulls with higher values on the maternal side to deliver high performances in relation to fertility in the herd.  The beef calving statistics for the herd have greatly improved.  There are many key targets in relation to suckler herd fertility that allow us to benchmark the performance of the herd against national targets for suckler herds. 

Key Targets for Suckler Herd Fertility

Performance Statistics

National AverageFigure

Ballyhaise College

Calving Interval

394 days

365 days

Mortality - Dead at 28 Days (%)



Calves per cow per year



% of Heifers calved 22-26 months age



Six week calving rate %



All of the replacements are reared on the farm and we aim to select heifers that will produce good shaped progeny with good growth potential and have good breeding efficiency with proper management.  Replacements are selected on the basis that they must produce a calf per year, calve as close to 24 months as possible, produce enough milk to rear her calf, produce top grade carcass when bred to good quality sire, should not contribute to calving difficulty and have good temperament and be easy to work with.  We use all of the data available from Irish Cattle Breeders Federation (ICBF) to select suitable replacements and sires to use on them.

In relation to breeding in the herd we use a combination of Charolais stock bull and Artificial Insemination (AI).  Using AI provides us with the opportunity to be very selective in the Maternal and/or Terminal traits we wish to improve on.  The breeding policy aims to exploit the differences in breeds and the influence of hybrid vigour.

All of the progeny (heifers, steers and bulls) are reared to beef.  The bulls are finished intensively in an under 16 month system and achieve carcase weights of approximately 400kg. Steers are slaughtered at approximately 22 months at an average carcase weight of 390kg and heifers not been kept as replacements are slaughtered at approximately 20 months at approximately 360kg carcase. As soon as animals have met the factory specification in terms of grade, age and weight (live weight/carcass) they are sold to the factory. 

There is also a Dairy calf to beef enterprise on the farm finishing approximately 25 beef cross heifers and steers from the Colleges dairy herd.

There is a big emphasis placed on grassland management on the Beef enterprise. There has been considerable investment in paddocks, water and access to ensure grass quality can be managed and animals can be turned out earlier in the spring in order to maximise the amount of live weight gain from grazed grass.

Sheep Flock

The Ballyhaise College sheep farm consists of 24Ha of permanent grass land. The farm is situated in three separate blocks located within half a kilometre of each other.  Flock numbers currently stand at 285 ewes and this includes ewes, hoggets’ and ewe lambs.  The current stocking rate for the ewe flock is close to 12 ewes per Ha.


The early lambing flock consists of approximately 80 ewes which lamb down in early January. These ewes are synchronised for breeding using sponges and PMSG, rams get one mating cycle with these ewes, resulting in a very compact lambing.  Ewes that fail to go in lamb in the early flock subsequently join the mid-season flock once they are pregnancy scanned in October. Terminal Suffolk, Charollais and Texel sired rams are used for the early flock; this is an all in all out system where no lambs from the early flock remain on as replacements. An indoor system is in operation where lambs remain indoors until slaughter. Creep feed is introduced to lambs from three weeks of age and lambs are finished at approximately 12 weeks of age on an ad-lib diet.  Following weaning the early ewes are used to graze out paddocks until 8-10 weeks premating where they are moved on to good grass in preparation for going in lamb again.   This indoor system removes approximately 80 ewes from the grazing system in spring and this helps save grass for the mid-season flock. 

Table 1 - Performance of early lambing flock in 2022

Litter size

Birth Weight


40 day Weight (kg)

ADG to weaning














The majority of the ewes are in the mid-season lambing flock which lamb in March.  These ewes are mated from the first week of October following the introduction of teaser rams two weeks previously to help compact the lambing season.  The ewe lambs are then mated two weeks after the rams are joined with the mature ewes to allow the majority of the mature ewes to lamb before having to lamb the yearlings.  The target is join 30-40 ewes lambs each October along with 30 hoggets’ to facilitate a replacement rate of 20-25%. 

Table 2 - Performance of mid-season flock 2021



Litter size


Ewes lambed (%)


Mortality (%)


Lambs weaned


Lambs Drafted by end of September (%)


Breeding Policy

The flock ewe type is primarily Suffock cross Texel with some Belclare genetics, with Texel, Suffolk and Charollais rams been the preferred terminal breeds for the mature ewes. Last year to increase flock prolificacy and scanning rates 3 high index Belclare rams were mated with 75 high performing Suffolk ewes with the aim of keeping the best quality ewe lambs as replacements. The College has a clearly defined breeding policy which has revolved around a reciprocal cross of Suffolk and Belclare ewes where Suffock –sired ewes are mated with a Belclare ram and vice versa.   

Breeding Ewe Lambs

Breeding ewe lambs requires careful management. Ewe lambs are selected using a combination of animals own performance and desirable physical traits.  Progeny are selected for high performing ewes with good maternal breeding traits.   Ewe lambs need to be at least 47kg-50kg going to the ram and an easy lambing Charollais sire is used. Post lambing ewe lambs are treated as a separate flock and supplemented with concentrates for 5 weeks, while their lambs are creep fed from 8 weeks to slaughter.  This flock is weaned at 12 weeks to allow these yearling ewes to recover sufficiency to go back in lamb in the next breeding season.  

Flock Health

A closed-flock policy is operated, with rams the only animals purchased.  These rams are subject to a quarantine period and only join the flock once their health status is known.  A health programme is in place that operates on a preventative rather than cure policy.  All breeding sheep are vaccinated for clostridia diseases, enzootic abortion and toxoplasmosis.  Regular faecal egg counts are collected to determine if dosing is necessary. 

Grassland Management

A huge emphasis is placed on grassland management with rotational grazing system in operation on the unit. A large proportion of the farm is recently reseeded with new grass as well as having clover incorporated into the sward with the aim of reducing chemical nitrogen usage. In 2021 just over 10 acres of multi-species was established with the aim of further reducing nitrogen usage and increasing the sustainability of the unit. Paddock sizes are around 1.5Ha which facilitates grazing in three days.  Temporary electric fencing is using during peak grass growth to ensure optimum post grazing heights are achieved, when growth exceeds demand surplus grass is taken out as high quality baled silage. The last number of year’s considerable investment was made in correcting soil fertility on the unit. Investment in lime, phosphors and potassium has paid off with recent soil analysis showing the majority of the paddocks