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Key Metrics for Efficient Pasture-based Production Systems

Key Metrics for Efficient Pasture-based Production Systems

On Stand No 3 at Farming for a Better Future Open Day at Teagasc specialists Joe Patton and Pearse Kelly and Teagasc Johnstown Castle Researcher David Wall, discuss Key Metrics for Efficient Pasture-based Production Systems. View the live boards and presentations here on Teagasc Daily

View the third stand at the Farming for a Better Future - Technologies for Today & Tomorrow Open Day in Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford on 30 August, where Joe Patton and Sean Cummins, Teagasc gave an insight into developing efficient pasture-based systems for Dairy & Beef production.


Conversion of human-indigestible forage to high quality utilisable protein is the key contribution of ruminant production systems to global human food production. International environmental policy and evolving consumer preferences are placing additional demands on livestock systems. The principal challenges include reducing gaseous emissions and nutrient loss to the environment, minimizing dependency on human-edible feeds, promoting biodiversity, and enhancing animal health and welfare. These sustainability challenges must be met against a backdrop of often low and variable economic margins generated by primary agricultural production. Efficient pasture-based systems, augmented by new and emerging technologies, have the capacity to provide solutions.

Livestock systems research

The research farm at Johnstown Castle hosts a wide range of pasture-based experimental systems, from autumn and spring-calving dairy herds operating different feed systems, to a range of calf-to-beef models operating at different levels of intensity. Across all systems however, increasing pasture utilised (expressed as tonnes dry matter (DM) per hectare) is a key performance indicator. Numerous analyses have shown that this is the physical performance metric most closely aligned with net farm margins.

Maximising pasture utilisation

Sward productivity, animal performance and imported feed affect the levels of pasture utilisation achieved on farms. Pasture utilised increases where high animal performance is achieved for lower supplementary feed input, at a stocking rate that is appropriate for annual pasture growth rates. The target is to utilise 10 to 12 tonnes DM per ha for beef and dairy systems while achieving a high level of self-sufficiency for feed energy and protein. The objective of increasing pasture utilisation must be balanced with achieving improved N-use efficiency and reduced N surpluses within each system. Central to this objective is to limit N imports (as inorganic N fertilizer and feed crude protein), while maintaining or increasing productive N offtakes (milk and carcass protein). Clover incorporation into grassland swards and reduced chemical N, low emission slurry spreading, lower crude protein feeds, and optimizing stocking rates, are key management practices. 

Low carbon emission production systems

Addressing carbon emissions from dairy and beef systems is a key priority for the Teagasc research and knowledge transfer programmes, both in terms of improving efficiency per unit product, and mitigating sectoral totals. Management options that are compatible with efficient pasture-based systems include use of NBPT-protected urea instead of CAN fertilizer, earlier age at slaughter, altering sward composition, and selection for robust animal genotypes (EBI). Work on the methane abatement potential of specific dietary additives has shown promise, however, a significant consideration will be the method of supplement delivery in a pasture-feeding context. 

Other resources & online information

Email: joe.patton@teagasc.ie ; pearse.kelly@teagasc.ie 

Find out more here about Dairy and Beef from Teagasc

See Johnstown Castle Open Day - Technologies for farms of the future 

Check out the hashtag #GrassSoilsTechnology