The Irish Grassland Association annual student conference sponsored by FBD is fast becoming a highly anticipated date on the calendar. Last years’ conference saw in excess of 400 3rd level agricultural students travelling to Galway for the very educational and social event. For many, this is their first foray with the Irish Grassland Association and one which sows the seed of the advancement of knowledge of good grassland management in Irish farming.
This year the tenth annual Irish Grassland Association Student Conference will take place in Co. Kilkenny on Wednesday, October 9th, 2019. Students will have the opportunity to interact with technical experts in various fields covering important topics like grass breeding and varieties, dairy calf to beef systems, animal genetics, feed and environmental efficiency, progression in farming along with the opportunity to meet a progressive dairy farmer and see first-hand the knowledge and expertise required to manage a successful dairy enterprise.
The day will be broken into a morning and evening session. The morning technical session will start in Kilkenny Livestock Mart. Growing quality grass swards, in order to maximise animal performance from pasture and sward utilization will dominate proceedings in the first session of the conference. Students will be given technical talks on current thinking and up to date research findings on grass breeding, current variety list and reseeding options, the topical area of dairy calf to beef will also be teased out. The morning session will conclude with an interactive livestock demo presented by ICBF and IFJ representatives with livestock on display from the Tullamore Farm and Tully Performance Test Centre. Following the morning session a hot lunch will be provided for the attendees and served in the Kilkenny Mart “Hub” event centre.
In the afternoon, students will travel to the dairy farm of the O Keeffe Family Farm Churchclara, Co. Kilkenny. Bill O Keeffe is the dairy farmer manager in the farming partnership, during the farm visit he will give an insight into his farming system and the grassland management regime he employs on the farm.
Dr Mary McEvoy of the IGA Council will outline how the Department of Agriculture’s recommended list of grass seeds and the Pasture Profit Index (PPI) values can be used to assist in the decision making required around cultivar selection. She will outline this years’ top performing cultivars for use in grazing and silage swards. Choosing a suitable grass seed mixture is a crucially important decision, as what you sow today you want to last for the next eight to 10 years out on farm. Variety choice has a big impact on the quality of the sward and ultimately farm productivity. During her talk Mary will highlight some of the key factors to consider including quality, sward density, persistency and dry matter productivity cultivars when designing a seed mix.
Alan Dillon, Teagasc Cattle Specialist and manager of the Green Acres Dairy Calf-to-Beef Programme will give an overview of the key criteria to implement for a successful Dairy Beef System. For his talk he will be utilizing real on farm data and knowledge garnered from his interactions with the demonstration farms participation in the Green Acres Dairy Calf-to-Beef Programme. These demonstration farms have been selected from across the country, each with an aim of achieving a net margin of €500/ha (excluding premia). Alan is working on an intensive basis with these demonstration farms to advise best practice on the rearing, growing and finishing of purchased dairy-bred calves through to beef. Dairy calf-to-beef production systems have the potential to be profitable, but these profits are dependent on achieving high animal output from grazed pasture. Systems that have a high proportion of grass in the diet and finish animals at a younger age will both increase profitability and reduce environmental footprint. Special focus during his talk will be placed on key areas such as calf selection and rearing, animal health, grassland management, soil fertility, financial management, and farm planning.
This year for the first time at the IGA student conference, The Irish Farmers Journal and ICBF are partnering to bring a selection of cattle exhibits from the IFJ Tullamore Farm and Tully Performance Test Centre. ICBF will cover the potential of the terminal and replacement indexes to increase profitability on suckler beef enterprises. Cattle exhibits will show students the genetic and phenotypic variation that exists in key economically relevant traits such as suckler cow fertility (calving interval, age of first calving), calf performance and weaning weight targets and cow weaning efficiency. They will discuss how can these important parameters be improved in a suckler herd from a breeding and also management perspective. During the discussion comparison will be made between the top performance herds and trends in the national suckler herd. The new dairy beef index will also be discussed and cattle from different star ratings (genetic merit) will be on site to view. From a cattle finishing point of view, the theme of feed conversion efficiency across breed types and diets will be explored along with proper selection of cattle for slaughter. There will also be novel information on methane production potential from continental beef and dairy beef cattle tested in Tully and an update on some of the research work in this field.
The O Keeffe farm in Clara, Co Kilkenny is home to the Churchclara Herd of Pedigree British Friesian cows. The herd consists of 300 milking cows in 2019 with 150 in-calf Heifers, 150 heifer calves and 50 young pedigree bulls. The family has been farming here since the 1600s and would have been supplying milk to Kilkenny Creamery as far back as 1916. The herd will grow to 400 milking cows in 2020 with the followers staying at the same level for the next few years. The target is to sell 2.8 million Litres of milk per year from the 400 cows and to supplement this income with the sale of approximately 50 pedigree bulls and 70 calved heifers as well as high value beef calves and cull cows.
The farm was a traditional family farm that has grown from 120 cows in 2000 to the planned 400 cows next year through mainly the addition of leased land. Land is now leased in from 6 different people with the largest leased block being the 80 acres for the in-calf heifers. The milking platform has grown from 200 acres to almost 400 acres over the past 5 years since quota removal with all extra land leased in through long-term arrangements.
Grass is usually measured weekly on farm with feeding and fertiliser decisions made on the basis of grass available and projected growth for the following week. The herd is stocked at 3 cows/Ha on the milking platform with approximately 1 ton of concentrate fed per (normal) year. Health and Fertility are strong traits of the herd with 90% of the cows calved in 6 weeks for the last few years and cell count averaging around 100,000 in 2017 and 2018. Legs and feet are excellent in the herd. Production traits are strong too with the herd of 300 cows producing 1.85 million litres of milk at 4.32 Fat and 3.60 Protein in 2018 despite culling 30 cows in early September to spare winter feed.
The family places a lot of emphasis on bio-diversity and farming with nature. Most of the traditional hedges are retained on the farm. Waterways are fenced off and areas have been planted with new trees in recent years. Old buildings are maintained where possible in the yard and Animal Welfare is a huge priority with an effort made to breed healthy long-lasting dual purpose cows that breed a bull calf that can have a sustainable future in the beef industry.
We would like to sincerely thank our sponsors FBD, our hosts Bill O Keeffe and Family, Co. Kilkenny for their help and co-operation in hosting our 2019 Student Conference.