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Galway Farmer wins Drystock Grassland Farmer of the Year

12 April 2024
Type Media Article

By John Kilboyle, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue T.D. presented the Sustainable Grassland Farmer of the year awards last Thursday, 11 April at the Teagasc Ballyhaise Agricultural College.

The Sustainable Grassland Farmer of the Year awards are part of the Teagasc Grass10 Campaign which is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Teagasc, AIB, FBD, Grassland Agro and the Irish Farmers Journal. The Grass10 programme has placed an ongoing focus on improving nutrient management and efficiency on farms along with clover establishment and its management. 

The Drystock Category was awarded to Billy Gilmore, Cortoon, Tuam, Co. Galway. Billy operates a contract heifer rearing system rearing over 200 heifers a year. The system has changed over the years, from a mixed system; an autumn calving suckling system, a spring lambing flock and tillage enterprise.

‘‘I took over the farm at the age of 15 and shortly after I remember I cycled to my first farm walk and the discussion back then was around the principle of growing grass in 3 weeks and grazing it in 3 days, setting up paddocks and applying lime. Fast forward 50 years and the principles are still the same that drive the success of any farm system’’ says Billy

Increasing grass growth on the farm has been possible by carrying out regular soil samples which identified paddocks that were index 1 and 2 for Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). Billy applied lime to paddocks wherever was needed and slurry to the paddocks with low index 1 and 2 for P or K and compound fertiliser to remaining paddocks.

Billy has always been an advocate for measuring grass and has been involved in local discussion groups and programmes over the years. Billy commented ‘‘every farm I visit no matter how big or small there is always something that I can take home and adopt on the farm’’.

Grass measuring has allowed Billy to focus on producing quality grass which both go hand in hand on the farm. Silage quality has always been important on the farm from cows calving in the autumn needing quality silage to now weanling heifers. ‘‘Maximising weigh gain over the winter period is essential with good quality silage. I always target 70-75DMD. Grazing ground in the spring is essential in addition to cutting in mid- May as far as possible. The crop is all leaf and very little stem at that stage. There is very little room for error. Having a paddock system also enables to remove surpluses which is usually very good quality’’.

Billy has always been very open to trying new technologies and adopting practices which will benefit grassland management on the farm. His flexible approach is very much needed dealing with grass throughout the seasons from severe rainfall to drought conditions. Billy stated ‘‘this spring has been very challenging. I have only had a chance to get the heifers to grass for a couple of weeks so far. While farmers in the west are used to long winters, this spring has caused huge pressure on farms. There is plenty of grass on farm, ground conditions is the big problem. I applied slurry in early February on over half the farm but have no fertiliser out yet. Once conditions allow heifers will be going to grass in groups. I intend to apply 30 units of nitrogen’’.

‘‘I am over 50 years farming and I am still trying to improve grassland management on the farm. I have always had an interest in growing grass and maximising its utilisation. While I introduced paddocks decades ago I have decreased the size of the paddocks further.’’ concludes Billy.

Teagasc Galway/Clare Regional Manager Pat Clarke commented ‘‘Congratulations to Billy, Anne and family on this fantastic achievement. It is a testament to all of Billy’s persistence and hard work being paid off with this award. Billy has always been instrumental to Teagasc over the years hosting events, participating in programmes and working with local staff. I look forward to visiting the farm later this year when Billy will host the Drystock award farm walk ’’