Earlier finishing reduces GHG Emissions in Newford beef herd
Farmers attending a successful Newford Suckler beef demonstration farm open day in Athenry today, Tuesday, 23 May learned of the changes and lessons learned since the project was initially set up in 2015.
The suckler calf-to-beef demonstration farm has highlighted many positive features of the production system, with the herd excelling in breeding and calving performance, with dramatic reductions in the ages that animals are finished.
The suckler herd operates using 100% Artificial insemination (AI) to maximise genetic gain. Increases in variable costs, experienced by all farmers, have hampered the farm’s financial performance. The stakeholders involved in the Newford Farm are Dawn Meats, Teagasc, Irish Farmers Journal and McDonald’s.
The herd now consists of 85 suckler cows on 58ha, across three blocks of land. Changes to the finishing blueprint have resulted in heifers being finished at just under 18 months of age and steers being finished under 21 months. By extending the grazing season, the 2021-born beef heifers were finished under 18 months of age, which lead to a significant saving in concentrate and silage requirements, and reduces their lifetime emissions.
Better use of genetics
One of the biggest changes to come about during the project has been the move to 100% artificial insemination. This change has allowed better use of genetics, through matching good terminal beef sires with suitable cows to improve the beef characteristics of progeny while still retaining calving ease. This is facilitated by investing in technology around heat detection.
Good grassland management
Grassland management has been a major focus in terms of production efficiency. The farm has 38 paddocks across the three land blocks and all of these can be subdivided. Animals graze covers of 1200-1500kg DM/ha. Paddocks with covers greater than 1,500kg DM/ha are removed as surplus bales producing silage testing at greater than 75% dry matter digestibility. These high-quality bales are fed back to finishing steers and weanlings during the winter and this also helps reduce the need to feed additional concentrates.
Irish agriculture is obliged to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25% by 2030 relative to 2018, as set out in the Climate Action Plan. One of the many strategies being targeted to achieve this is the reduction in the age of slaughter of animals on beef farms. Modelling work has shown that a three month reduction in the slaughter age will generate a reduction in the quantity of emissions from the national beef herd, delivering up to 0.7 million tonnes of GHG emissions reductions. This can be achieved by ensuring animal performance levels are optimised from grazed pasture and high-quality silage at farm level, something which Newford farm has been working on since 2015. The improvements in animal performance witnessed at farm level have led to a reduced age of slaughter, whilst still meeting market specifications.
Dan Browne, Chairman of the Newford Stakeholders said: “The Newford farm is demonstrating best practice by adopting a number of technologies to become more sustainable through its involvement in the Signpost Programme. I hope that visitors to the open day have taken something from today’s visit that will improve their own family farm business and partake in the discussion in order that we all learn from each other.”
Professor Frank O Mara, Teagasc Director, commended all involved in organising the open day, adding: "There are clear take home messages from the Newford suckler demonstration farm that can be applied on suckler and beef farms across the country.”
In the weeks leading up to the open day, the IDA announced that Dexcom, Inc., plan to build its newest global manufacturing facility in Athenry, Galway. This is a positive announcement for the Athenry area and the west of Ireland. The land identified for this new initiative is owned by the IDA and has been leased by Teagasc for over 10 years. In light of the announcement, Teagasc will discuss with the IDA the transition process for the land lease and in particular the anticipated timeframe. As part of these discussions, Teagasc will seek to maintain the Newford suckler beef demonstration herd in the Newford farm for as long as is feasible during the transition process. Teagasc is also in discussions with its partners Dawn Meats in the Newford demonstration farm on future plans for the project.