Grassland management is to the fore on John McHenry’s mixed farm in Mosside, Co. Antrim.
He is one of two 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. Members have welcomed the resumption of face-to-face delivery for Business Development Groups (BDGs).
It has allowed them to visit the CAFRE Technology Demonstration Farms (TDFs) to review new technologies that farmers have implemented successfully on these units.
McHenry farms 220 ewes as a closed flock and 70 sucklers, comprising Charolais, Salers and Limousin-cross cows, on 90 hectares.
He calves replacement heifers at 24-months, selling male stock and surplus heifers as stores.
Grassland management on farm
At the recent farm walk, he emphasised his goal to make the best use of grass within the system to achieve optimum utilisation levels and increase animal performance.
He established a paddock grazing system on the farm a decade ago. He introduced a plate meter and grass measuring software in conjunction with CAFRE beef and sheep development adviser, Rachel Megarrell, with the aim of growing and utilising more grass and increasing production efficiency and output.
John demonstrated that a paddock grazing system does not have to be complicated or time-consuming.
He has proven that getting the infrastructure right at the start pays dividends. He splits larger grazing areas 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:
- An improvement in grass quality;
- Increased cattle performance;
- The ability to identify best and the worst performing fields to allow targeted reseeding and soil improvement.
Soil sampling and liming programme
He emphasised the importance of soil sampling with the first step to growing a quality grass sward beginning below the surface with the correct soil pH and P&K levels.
The Antrim farmer has a liming programme in place across the enterprise as per recommendations from the soil analysis report.
He uses the CAFRE nutrient management calculator to produce a nutrient management plan to maximise nutrient benefits from slurry and fertiliser across the grazing platform.
The group looked at a field being grazed by cows and calves and discussed the area’s suitability for paddock grazing.
Plate meter and recording system
Also, the farmer gave a demonstration of the plate meter for measuring grass.
The group were shown how to use online technology 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.
Attendees heard that 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 he had ahead for the livestock. This enables him to plan and implement 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 guesswork out and allows him to make appropriate changes.
Lastly, John highlighted that the system in place on the farm is still evolving. Furthermore, he discussed his plans for further development of the paddock grazing system across the enterprise.