Before going organic, the Hurley family had been eating organic food for many years. They realised the’ benefits of organic food for human health as for the earth’. At the time, they kept 58 suckler cows and had ‘a massive feed and fertiliser bill’. They felt ‘production costs were too high’ and the numbers of stock were not sustainable.
After careful consideration, the farm entered conversion in 2015 with full organic status for the land and produce being achieved in 2017.
On the farm today, there is a suckler herd of 23 cows with weanlings sold in autumn. There is also a sheep enterprise of 100 ewes.
- Farmed area 39.6 hectares
- Mainly free-draining land
- 100 breeding ewes
- 23 suckler cows
- Farming organically since 2015
The holding is made up of two blocks of land, which is divided by a public roadway all of which is owned. The area farmed is 39.6 hectares
The suckler herd is made up of LimousinX and Belgian BlueX cows. The stock bull on the farm is a Belgian Blue and AI is also used (Charolais). Most of the calving takes place in January-February with some autumn calvers. Weanlings are sold from August (those born the previous autumn) to October (born in spring).
The Hurley’s place a big emphasis on genetics to breed high genetic merit replacements as well as aiming to breed U+ grade weanlings. The aims are as follows:
- Cow to calve every year
- Produce quality weanlings from milk
- Go back in calf easily
When selecting replacement heifers they use the Eurostar replacement index paying attention on milk, docility as well as carcass weight when making their decision.
They also use the Eurostar index when purchasing replacement bulls and when selecting AI bulls. The following are the specific traits that the Hurley’s look at:
- Dual purpose bull with 5* on the terminal and maternal side
- A low calving difficulty %
- Growth rate characteristics
The ewe flock is made up approximately 70 Rouge de Louest x Charollais ewes and the rest are Rouge de L’ouest x Texel. There are three rams on the farm 2 5* pure bred Charollais and 1 5* pure bred Rouge de L’ouest for keeping replacements.
The Hurley’s breed all their own replacements. Their aim is to produce prolific replacements by selecting lambs from top quality dams matched with a top quality 5* ram. Their criteria used when selecting replacements includes:
- Quantity of milk
- Mothering ability
- Lambs born without assistance
Three groups of ewes are run during the breeding season. One group with the maternal ram and the others with the terminal rams to produce lambs for slaughter.
Rams are selected based on their pedigree and physical attributes. The Hurley’s pay attention to the rams genetic index and always opt for a 5* pedigree ram with a high reliability in his genetic index. In doing this they believe that this will result in a higher scanning rate and better growth rates.
Livestock Health in Organic Farming
- A healthy herd in organic farming is achieved by a combination of good management, sound nutrition and good animal husbandry skills.
- When a farm undergoes conversion to organic status an Animal Health Plan is required to be drawn up by the veterinary practitioner, who specifies the current animal health issues on the farm and how the farmer will tackle these problems into the future, while conforming to the requirements of organic certification standards.
- Detection of problems needs to be early, and timely veterinary advice is invaluable – when an animal is ill the organic farmer reacts in the same manner as their conventional neighbour and veterinary assistance is required immediately
Animal Health on the Farm
The switch to organics has not lead to any adverse effects with regard to animal health on the farm.
- A closed sheep flock is operated as much as is possible to help minimise disease risks.
- Faecal analyses are taken to assess the level and identify the type of internal parasites if present.
Organic Animal Housing Standards
- Adjustments to meet organic standards may be necessary – depends on farm situation.
- Housing is not compulsory.
- At least 50% of floor area must be bedded.
- Straw, rushes or untreated wood shavings are acceptable bedding materials and these need not be organic.
- All animal housing is subject to inspection and approval by the Organic Certification Body.
- See Figure 4 for organic space requirements.
Calculating the stock carrying capacity of your shed
Conversion of animal housing to become compliant with the organic standards can be one of the major tasks drystock farmers have to undertake. To calculate the stock carrying capacity of your shed, you will need three figures;
- The total indoor area of the shed
- The lying area in the shed
- The area required for each animal to be housed
In John Hurley’s situation, if we assume that the existing shed is to house suckler cows weighing 600kgs, then these 3 figures are;
- Total indoor area = 107.80 m2 (14.0 x 7.7)
- Lying area = 54.6 m2 (14.0 x 3.9)
- Total area required for a suckler cow = 6 m2
With the above figures at hand, we can then easily calculate that John’s house can accommodate 18 suckler cows (54.6 /3)
Soil Fertility on the Farm
The whole farm was recently soil sampled as part of the DAFM Pilot Soil Sampling Programme 2021.
- Soil fertility is good on the farm.
- The soil pH on the farm ranges from 6.3 to 7.2
- Outlined below is an overview of the soil Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) levels on the farm
Soil Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) Levels on the Hurley Farm
Slurry is spread in spring. The farmyard manure is spread in autumn. The Hurley’s also use bioinoculants including biostimulant pelleted fertilisers for the land and biostimulant additives for the slurry and farmyard manure.
Sources of Organic Manures that are permitted to be imported onto Organic Farm
- Imported farmyard manure or slurry must come from stock that have been outside during the year, not from intensive pig and poultry units where animals are inside all the time or from zero grazing farming systems. Farmyard manure must be composted for at least 3 months before it can be land spread.
- Dairy processing sludge is available from some dairy processors who have sludge registered with an Organic Certification Body.
Grazing, Fodder and Feed
The grazing on the farm is managed by using a rotational grazing system.
The plan is to finish lambs early to allow more grazing for the cattle.
30 acres is cut for silage and 8 acres of hay is made. This produces 250 bales of silage and 60 bales of hay. Silage fields are rotated.
In 2021, an organic ration was fed to the weanlings. In addition, the ewes were fed an organic nut for 60 days and the lambs. There is no ration fed over the winter.
Overall the Hurley’s believe that a combination of ‘genetics, grassland management and an excellent health programme are key to a profitable sheep and beef enterprise’.
Organic Certification in Ireland
A major factor that distinguishes organic farming from other approaches to sustainable farming is the existence of internationally acknowledged standards and certification procedures. The standards for organic production within the European Union are defined and enshrined in law by Council Regulation EC 834/2007 as amended.
In Ireland the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the competent authority (i.e. - the Department’s Organic Unit is based at Johnstown Castle Estate Wexford) for regulating the organic sector and ensuring that the obligations and requirements of Council Regulation (EC) No. 834/2007 as amended and adhered to.
The Organic Unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have designated Official Certification Bodies whose role is to certify organic producers, farmers and processors through and inspection process of each individual’s unit or farm. Further information can be sourced from these organic certification bodies:
Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme Organic Capital Investment Scheme (OCIS)
A standard rate of aid of 40% on investments up to a ceiling of €80,000 (i.e. can generate a grant of €32,000 from an investment of €80,000). For qualifying young organic farmers who meet the specific eligibility criteria, the standard rate of aid is 60% on investments up to a ceiling of €80,000.
How to Apply
Online applications only through www.agfood.ie facility.
Full details and T&C:
organic capital investment scheme ocis
DAFM Organic Unit, Johnstown Castle: email@example.com
Organic Processing Scheme
Grant aid of up to 40% on €1.75 million (i.e. can generate a grant of €700,000 for an investment of €1.75 million) in facilities for the processing, preparation, grading, packing and storage of organic products with minimum level of investment in excess of €3,000.
DAFM Organic Unit, Johnstown Castle: firstname.lastname@example.org
Organic Farming Scheme (OFS)
The DAFM Organic Farming scheme opened on February 9th 2022 for new applications and closed on April 22nd 2022.
Payment Rates for Livestock Holdings