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CAFRE

John takes the guess work out of grazing

September 22, 2021

The resumption of face to face delivery for Business Development Groups (BDG’s) has been welcomed by members as it has afforded them the opportunity to visit the CAFRE Technology Demonstration Farms (TDF’s) to review the new technologies that have been implemented successfully on these units.

John McHenry, Mosside, Co. Antrim, is one of the recently appointed Beef Technology Demonstration farms focusing on grassland management.

John, an active member of his own BDG welcomed his first visitors to the farm this week.  He is currently farming approximately 90 Ha of land running 220 ewes as a closed flock and 70 sucklers made up of Charolais, Saler and Limousin cross cows.  Replacement heifers selected for breeding are calving down at 24 months with male stock and surplus heifers sold as stores.  John emphasised the goal on this farm is to make the best use of grass within the system to achieve optimum utilisation levels and increase animal performance. 

A paddock grazing system was set up on the farm 10 years ago and working in conjunction with CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser Rachel Megarrell a plate meter and grass measuring software package was introduced with the aim of growing and utilising more grass and increasing production efficiency and output. 

John demonstrated that a paddock grazing system doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming and getting the infrastructure right at the start pays dividends.  Larger grazing areas are split using a mixture of permanent and temporary fencing.  Water supply and lane access to the paddock grazing area is also crucial.  Just some of the benefits seen on farm since adopting this approach are; improvement in grass quality, increased cattle performance and the ability to identify best and also the worst performing fields to allow targeted reseeding and soil improvement. 

The importance of soil sampling was emphasised with the first step to growing a quality grass sward beginning below the surface with the correct soil pH, P&K levels.  A liming programme is in place across the farm as per recommendations from the soil analysis report.  The CAFRE nutrient management calculator is used to produce a nutrient management plan to maximize nutrient benefit from slurry and fertiliser across the grazing platform.

At the end of the evening the group looked at a field being grazed by cows and calves and discussed the suitability of the area for paddock grazing. A demonstration of the plate meter for measuring grass was given. The group were shown how online technology can be used to generate a grass wedge which allows you to make decisions about the quantity of feed available on the grazing platform and provides an estimation of the number of grazing days ahead. The wedge is simple to use as it provides a visual representation of what is actually available on farm.

John commented that one of the key benefits of the plate meter and using a recording system was knowing how much grass you had ahead for the livestock which allows for planning and implementation of changes as required.  That has been particularly important this growing season with the wet, cold spring conditions followed by the dry weather mid-season.  Having access to the actual figures takes the guess work out and allows the appropriate changes to be made.  John highlighted that the system in place on the farm is still evolving and discussed his plans for further development of the paddock grazing system across the farm.

Details of all the TDFs and how to book a visit are available on the CAFRE website. At the moment CAFRE is taking group bookings only by emailing kt.admin@daera-ni.gov.uk

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the European Union fund the Business Development Groups Scheme and the establishment of Technology Demonstration Farms across Northern Ireland under the Innovation Technology Evaluation Demonstration (ITED) Scheme, as part of the Rural Development Programme.