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Shinagh Dairy Open Day

An open day took place on the Shinagh dairy farm, near Bandon, County Cork, today, Friday, 2 September and outlined the steps taken towards achieving a climate neutral and profitable dairy farm. The technical focuses of the Shinagh dairy farm have been to maximise the amount of grass grown and utilised per hectare and to optimise the proportion of the cows’ diet coming from grazed grass.

John J McNamara, Acting Regional Advisory Manager in the Teagasc Cork West advisory region said; “The future technical focuses on the farm will include reducing carbon, nitrogen and ammonia losses from the farm and improving labour efficiency while optimising animal welfare. These will include strategies to reduce the carbon footprint of the milk produced, reduce the total ammonia emissions from the farm and increase the nitrogen efficiency and the biodiversity value of the farm.”

Farm Zero Carbon (FZC)
The programme to make the Shinagh farm carbon neutral is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Most of the funding will be used for trial work on products and methods that may reduce the overall emissions from a dairy farm. The technologies identified in the Teagasc Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC) that reduce the carbon footprint are being implemented on the farm.  

Introduction of Clover into pastures
This is an ongoing process in Shinagh. Every paddock being reseeded is getting 5 kilograms per hectare of clover seed. All other paddocks will be top seeded with clover at a similar rate. Clover can add up to 150kg of nitrogen per hectare per year through the nodules on the clover roots. Shinagh will reduce its total artificial fertiliser by 150kg of nitrogen per hectare per year.  

Breeding more efficient Cows
The selection of more efficient dairy cows is also of paramount importance. From an animal breeding standpoint, there are two key improvement goals: firstly, extend the lifespan of each animal and reduce the requirement for replacements; and secondly, to further increase individual animal performance for grazed pasture. Increasing herd Economic Breeding Index (EBI) by €10 per year increases annual farm profitability by €20 per cow per year, and reduces GHG emissions by 2% per annum. In addition, the selection of dairy cows that are capable of achieving large intakes of forage relative to their size, and genetic potential for milk production increases feed efficiency, and reduces nutrient losses. Efficient grazing animals should produce in excess of 90% of bodyweight in annual milk solids production to increase Nitrogen use efficiency. Shinagh will be aggressively selecting on EBI and will use milk recording to eliminate inefficient animals.  

Protected Urea
All nitrogen fertiliser used on the farm will be in the form of protected urea. Research has shown that protecting urea with a urease inhibitor reduces loss of NH3 to the environment by 80%. Furthermore, protected urea reduces nitrous oxide (N₂O) losses by 71% compared with ammonium nitrate, without compromising productivity. Results from several studies indicate that protecting 50 kg/ha of urea-N will save 6 kg N/ha, which can increase the value of grass growth by up to €40/ha per yr. Protected urea can help reduce nitrogen(N) losses to water by holding N in ammonium form, which is more stable in soil particularly during wet conditions. 

Low emission slurry spreading (LESS)
All slurry spread on the farm will be by low emission slurry equipment. Using LESS methods, such as trailing shoe or band spreaders, has a large effect on N losses and increases slurry N value by 10%, thereby increasing pasture productivity and further reducing chemical N requirements.

Reducing the protein in the dairy ration
On average, Irish dairy cows have a requirement for a diet with a Crude Protein (CP) content of 15 to 17%. The milking cow’s diet will be balanced to 16% protein in the total diet. Grass is normally above 20% protein and makes up the bulk of the milking cows diet. Therefore the protein content of the supplementary ration can be 12%, while the cows are on grass. In spring and autumn when the milking cows are on silage, the protein of the ration will be 16%. Grazed grass more than adequately meets animal requirements for crude protein. Feeding high CP content concentrates during the grazing season provide excess CP to the dairy cow, who must then expend energy to excrete the excess N. From an environmental perspective, reducing concentrate CP content will reduce N surplus and loss to the environment. A 1% reduction in CP of dairy concentrates reduces N excretion by 1% and also results in a 5% reduction in GHG and NH3 emissions.   

Improving and increasing Biodiversity
Biodiversity is an important primary environmental indicator of sustainable agricultural systems. The Shinagh farm has been surveyed and 7.2% of the total area is biodiverse. A plan will be put in place for the extra measures that will be taken to increase this to 10%, with minimal impact on the productive grazing area on the farm. Examples include maintaining and managing existing habitats such as hedgerows and field margins, and the inclusion of watercourse buffer strips.  

Feed additives to reduce rumen methane production
Methane from the cow’s digestive system is the main source of GHG/C emission from milk production. Numerous additives have been fed to cows to reduce methane emissions in research trials, but most are not effective or their effect weakens after a short period i.e. 8 weeks. Ongoing trials of products (mainly seaweed extracts), will continue to attempt to find an effective additive.  

Energy & Water Efficiency
The farm’s main energy uses are for milk cooling (31%), milking (20%) and water heating (23%). A plate cooler and variable speed drives on the vacuum and milk pumps have been installed which will reduce the electricity demand. The installation of solar panels are being investigated to complement the existing wind turbine power generation.