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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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VIDEO: Outwintering and lambing over 800 ewes outdoors in Meath

Peter McGuinness’ use of innovative practices to enhance flock management and performance in his outdoor lambing system was the focus of the Irish Grassland Association Sheep event on June 22nd.

The 2021 Irish Grassland Association Sheep event is taking place virtually across three evenings on June 22nd, 23rd and 24th.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, a farm tour was not possible. In place of that, the association is holding an online event with a strong farmer focus.

Mixed enterprise 

The first speaker was Peter McGuinness, who farms a 500-acre enterprise in partnership with his father, Tom, in Trim, Co. Meath.

They have a sheep and tillage enterprise with a beef finishing unit, working on a B&B system and rear dairy heifers for the summer period.

On the sheep farming front, they lamb over 800 ewes outdoors on the farm starting in mid-March. They out-winter all single and twin bearing ewes and house ewes carrying triplets.

96% of lambs drafted for slaughter by October 1st 

Grassland needs to be extremely well managed to allow for the out-wintering of ewes and outdoor lambing from mid-March.

Peter’s excellent grassland management was acknowledged in 2020 when he received the award of Grassland Farmer of the Year in the sheep category.

Once ewes are lambed, the grassland focus turns to fattening lambs with ewes and lambs rotationally grazed in batches of 250 ewes and their lambs pre-weaning. Then, lambs are grazed ahead of the ewes in a leader-follower system post-weaning.

The high lamb performance achieved by the flock is demonstrated by 96% of progeny being drafted for slaughter in 2020 by October 1st. The remainder are sold as stores to allow ewes to take grazing preference once again for the breeding season.

The farm has 20 permanent paddocks that can be subdivided to manage grass at different times of the year. This, along with 10% of the farm being reseeded annually, allowed Peter to grow an impressive 13.7 tonnes of grass per hectare in 2020.

Grass measurement

Peter spent some time in New Zealand on work placement, and it was there that he discovered the value and benefits of grass measurement.

He embraced this technology and has implemented it on his own farm to great effect. He joined the Teagasc Grass10 program in 2019 and started measuring grass using a plate meter.

The part-time farmer walks the enterprise weekly throughout the grazing season, with up to 33 measurements taken throughout the year.

He uploads all grass measurements to PastureBase, which helps him to manage the grass on the farm. It also helps to ensure there is always a good supply of good quality grass in front of the ewes and lambs right through the grazing season.

The PastureBase system also helps Peter make decisions on what paddocks to skip in the rotation. This ensures high-quality grass for grazing and high-quality silage from the skipped paddocks.

The high level of grassland management means that the 13.7 tonnes of grass produced on-farm:

  • Supports a stocking rate of 10.5 ewes per hectare;
  • Produces silage for a beef finishing unit on-farm;
  • Also, it supplies enough surplus grass to feed by 100 dairy heifers. They are grazed on the farm at a daily rate during the summer months.

Virtual farm tour: Behind the scenes of an outdoor lambing system

That’s Farming will feature part two of the virtual event tomorrow.

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