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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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‘Without paddocks, you do not have control of what you are doing’

“There are a lot of reasons why you should use paddocks, but the main thing is that they give you control.”

“Without paddocks, you do not have control of what you are doing,” Alan Nolan, Business & Technology Advisor – Drystock, at Teagasc Ballinrobe told attendees of Jarlath and Austin Ruane’s recent open day in Claremorris, Co Mayo, as part of Dairy Beef 500.

Paddocks are at the centre of the father-and-son duo’s mixed farm, which comprises a dairy-bred calf-to-beef system and a lowland sheep flock.

By bringing all progeny through to beef as steers, they are striving to reduce costs by increasing weight gain from grass, as meal now accounts for the highest proportion of total variable costs at 41%.

Excellent grazing infrastructure on this farm, including an extensive network of paddocks, water, and roadways, aims to “maintain grass of the highest quality in front of stock at all times to ensure high levels of animal performance”.

Nolan explained: “A young bunch of their cattle are averaging 415kgs with an ADG of 1.09 kg/head.”

“On this farm, there is a heavy group of cattle, now weighing 615kgs, with an ADG of 1.1 kg/head since turnout.”

“I would be saying that those types of cattle should be doing 0.9-1.0 kg/head/day on grass throughout the year, with higher rates of 1.1-1.2 earlier in the year possibly, but this could reduce to 0.7 in the autumn.”

“However, at this point, the Ruanes may consider moving some of them into the shed. But to achieve this level of performance is a key target in trying to move stock on, to reduce the age of slaughter and to keep our overall costs down.”

“To achieve that level of performance, for any in a system like this, that being calf-to-beef or even suckling, you need paddocks.”

Benefits of paddocks

He then went on to list the numerous benefits of paddocks, starting with increased grass production and grass budgeting.

“If you have six paddocks per group of stock, they are only grazing one paddock at once and the remainder and resting and growing at the same time.”

“You are going to grow more grass and that is important for the Ruanes because they are carrying a very high stocking rate, of 2.8 LU/ha in 2023. So, to carry that stocking rate, they are going to have to grow a lot of grass.”

“You have better grass utilisation and again, when paddocks get strong or stemmy, you can take them out. You are trying to have nice, leafy grass in your paddocks, so cattle will clean it out and eat down bare.”

Moreover, you will have better animal performance and that is “what it is all” about throughout the year, achieving over 1kg/head/day, as is the case in this enterprise, he added.

Nolan outlined that you also have the added bonus of producing quality silage in paddocks where you can take our surplus covers and ease of management, overall.

“So, if we have better animal performance, we should be getting stock slaughtered at an early age, which will reduce the average age of slaughter. In an overall context, this reduces our methane and overall emissions on the farm.”

“It also eases pressure on shed space as well and less slurry needs to be spread also.”

“If you are more gain from grass, you have a heavier animal going back into the shed because they put more weight on during the summer, your finishing period should be shorter.”

“In a time when meal prices are higher, that means that less concentrates are required.”

“If you are growing more grass, you can carry more stock and this will enable you to have a better beef output, which is what you see here on this farm and will lead to increased margins,” Nolan concluded.

Other key messages:

  • Increasing the grazing season length = lowers GHG emissions;
  • Grazed grass has higher digestibility than grass silage = improved productivity and less energy lost as methane;
  • Shorter housing period = less slurry stores & less slurry applied = less emissions.

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