Bord Bia honoured Ireland’s most sustainable farmers at its Origin Green Sustainable Beef and Dairy Producer Awards ceremony. Over 200 industry representatives attended the Awards, which aim to highlight the link between environmental sustainability and efficient beef and dairy production at farm level. Their farms are among the top performers in a pool of nearly 60,000 farms surveyed in the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme for beef and dairy. In total, 28 farmers from across the country were shortlisted based on their sustainability credentials with regard to carbon footprint, biodiversity and water management.
The eight overall category winners across beef and dairy were as follows:
Neville Myles, Legaltion, Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal
Suckler to Weanling/Store Category
The Myles family are farming approximately 50 hectares of grassland in a few divisions, and also carry out some contracting work. Their 68-cow suckler herd is split between spring and autumn calving and a flock of 100 breeding ewes is also kept. Cows are a mixture of continental crosses, with Limousin the most popular, followed by Simmental, Charolais and Belgian Blue. This year, calving rate averaged 0.95 calves per cow. Neville has a key interest in breeding, using mostly A.I., followed by a Limousin stock bull. The land is well-divided into grazing paddocks. Sward quality is maintained through sheep grazing, taking baled silage and strategic reseeding. Slurry is well utilised in spring and early summer. Bull weanlings are sold to specialist finishers at 10-11 months and weigh between 450 and 500kg.
Pat and Tom Redmond, Gorey, Co. Wexford (with Nicky Livingston, Farm Manager)
Dairy Calf to Beef Category
Brothers Pat and Tom Redmond’s farm business spans 120 hectares of grassland, tillage and vegetable crops. Their beef enterprise focuses on the rearing of over 500 Angus-cross calves annually. These animals are produced in a coordinated manner, so as to finish 10 high-quality heifers per week. Processed in a local abattoir, their beef is supplied to the family’s two hotels in Gorey; the Ashdown Park and the Amber Springs. Both have earned an excellent reputation for dining. Redmond Farm steaks and burgers are firm favourites on the menu. Virtually all of the cattle’s feed is grown on-farm, including grass silage, maize silage, fodder beet and cereals. All heifers receive a period of supplementary feeding prior to finish to promote consistent eating quality. Heifer carcases average 290kg and 51.5% kill-out.
Alfie Kirwan, Hearnabrook, Killimor, Ballinasloe, Co. Galway
Suckler to Beef Category
Alfie Kirwan has a well-managed grassland farm in east Galway. He has a compact, spring-calving suckler herd consisting mainly of Saler and Simmental-cross cows. Breeding is predominantly by A.I., with a Simmental bull used at the end of the season. There has been a strong focus for many years on breeding fertile replacements with good milk and longevity. This strategy is paying dividends, with 52 cows producing 57 live calves in 2016, leading to an ICBF average calving rate of 1.09 calves per cow. This must surely be among the highest in the country! The farm has a long grazing season and stock are weighed regularly. Last year, Alfie took the decision to convert to organic production, encouraged by demand for this premium niche market. Winter housing facilities have been adapted to meet the straw-bedding requirement. Going forward, he is keen to maintain soil fertility, utilising manure and slurry.
Kieran Dooley, Leabeg, Tullamore, Co. Offaly
Weanling/Store to Beef Category
Kieran Dooley specialises in the intensive finishing of well-bred continental young bulls and heifers, along with his brother Brian and son Joe. In recent years, the Dooleys have opted to buy more and more of their cattle direct from suckler farms. These animals tend to acclimatise faster, with fewer health problems. Cattle are purchased throughout the year, including many strong-weanling bulls with good weight-for-age which are suitable for finishing at less than 16 months of age. Heifers and lighter bulls are grown-on at pasture for most of the grazing season. This farm has an excellent system for handling and weighing stock. In all finishing pens, cattle stand on slatted flooring to feed and lie-back onto a bedded area. Feeding management is exceptional, with fresh feed offered twice a day. Diets include maize silage, fodder beet, cereals and potato by-product. Finishing bulls consistently achieve average weight gains of 2.0kg/day.
John Joe and Theresa O’Sullivan, Gurrane, Rosscarbery, Co. Cork supplying Lisavaird Co-op
Small / Medium Herd Category
John Joe and Theresa O’Sullivan milk 70 cows with a herd EBI of 174 on 45 hectares. At time of visit cows were milking 19 litres at 4.5% fat and 4.05% protein. Although grass measurement has only been commenced on the farm this year, achieving a long grazing season has never been a problem with cows grazing over 300 days a year every year. Excellent use is made of slurry with approx. 80% of all slurry produced spread in Spring reducing the reliance on chemical fertilizer. The main slurry tank on the farm is agitated with an aerator system that is run for about an hour a day from Christmas to ensure slurry is agitated sufficiently prior to spreading. Biodiversity is a key feature on this farm with 12% of the farm classified as a habitat, including some woodland, an ancient fort and an orchard where John Joe practices his hobby of beekeeping.
Dermot Sherry, Drumhillock, Co Monaghan supplying LacPatrick Co-Op
Liquid/Winter Milk Category
Farming 63 ha in North, Co Monaghan in 5 separate farm blocks, Dermot took over the farm in 2008. Cow numbers have reached a peak this year of 118 up from 70 just a few years ago. Dermot is operating off a 28 ha milking platform, and as stocking rate has increased a massive emphasis is now placed on early turnout and grassland measurement and management. The measurement of grass only started on this farm 3 years ago, and is now a major focus for Dermot. Spring turnout date is 5 – 6 weeks earlier than what it was a few years ago. Rainwater is harvested from the roof of the milking parlour and the adjoining slatted shed and is used for washing yards and machinery. Having worked as a hoof trimmer, Dermot places a large emphasis on cows feet and legs as well as fertility and kg milk solids when selecting bulls for breeding.
Patrick Brennan, Ballingarry, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary supplying Arrabawn Co-Op
Carbon Footprint Reduction Category
Patrick is milking 171 cows on a 73 ha acre grazing block, with a further 24 ha on outside blocks for young stock and silage ground. Over recent years this farm has been converting from tillage as cow numbers have increased, therefore a lot of the ground has been relatively freshly reseeded. An early grass farm, calving starts on January 20th with 79% cows calved within 6 weeks and cows are turned out during the first week of February. Cows are producing 430 kg MS/yr with 500 kg concentrate. At the time of the visit, cows were at 4.45% fat and 3.75% protein. This year Patrick replaced 2 electric water heaters with an external, wall mounted gas water heater which is twice as economical and has hot water available on demand. He also recently installed a GPS system on the tractor and has saved 2 tn fertiliser with more accurate spreading.
John Hannigan, Sandfield, Dromcollogher, Co. Limerick supplying Kerry Co-op
Large Herd Category
John milks 112 Friesian cows with a herd EBI of 182 on 63 hectares. Cows were milking 19 litres at 4% fat and 3.83% protein at time of the visit. When John was building this herd he was very selective about where he sourced his stock choosing to buy from well-known and proven pedigree herds. It is no surprise so, that his interest in breeding resulted in producing one of the most well-known and widely used AI bulls of recent years, Highmount Kenny, (HMY). AI companies continue to test calves on the farm annually. Grass on the farm was top quality and plentiful reducing the reliance on concentrates which totals approx. 550kg/cow/year. Regular soil testing is considered in the fertilizer plan and John gives priority to spreading lime as he gets the best result and value from this. Slurry spread with umbilical system in Spring.