‘Walking the farm on a Monday morning makes all my decisions for the week’

Day four at [email protected], which kicked off yesterday evening, centred around how to grow and utilise more grass in beef production systems.

Teagasc’s Aidan Murray chaired the discussion on the topic of ‘how my farm grows more grass’. The panel was made up of Sean Roddy, a suckler farmer from Co. Kildare, along with Christy Watson and Edward O’Riordan from Teagasc.

Aidan started off by asking his Teagasc colleague Edward to explains the benefits of different grazing systems.

What are the advantages if someone was to move from set stocking to a paddock or rotational grazing system? 

The biggest advantage is around how you can manage grass and manage the stock. We know that grass growth varies throughout the season and if you are on one block of land it can become impossible to manage that.

If you take that farm and divide a large field into five, six or seven paddocks, it means that once you have paddocks, even if the same amount of grass grows, it means you can manage that grass more easily and you can see surpluses building up.

For me, the key to managing grass is to match demand with supply. When you have a paddock system in place, it means that the variable grass growth that takes place can be seen and managed. It gives you a tremendous ability to manage grass. 

Measuring grass on a weekly basis

Aidan then turned to Sean Roddy to ask him what motivates him to go out and measure grass on a weekly basis.

We have seen farmers over the years fall off the wagon when it comes to measuring. What motivates you to go out on a Monday morning to walk the farms?

Apart from just getting a good 13km walk in, it allows me to make decisions. At my stocking rate, it’s the most important two hours that I can spend on the farm that week.

Looking at the week ahead, it makes all my decisions for me based on the information I gather.

So does the walk plus PastureBase Ireland give you the confidence to make these decisions that you can stand over?

It’s information. You can’t make a decision if you don’t have the information. Having that information means you can make a more reliable decision; therefore, you have a higher chance of making the right decision.  

Budget grassland management systems

Christy Watson was then asked by Aidan on advice for farmers that might not necessarily have the budget to implement the systems seen on Sean Roddy’s farm.

What are the key things you would advise farmers to do to improve their grazing infrastructure? 

The first thing is if they have large fields, you’d have to try and break them down into smaller areas. I would suggest a small step, maybe breaking up the fields into paddocks using temporary reels, like Sean has done with 20ac of his land.

The advantage with this is there is a decision made but it’s not a permanent decision. If somebody is not happy with it, it’s reversible and I have yet to come across a farmer who has put in paddocks and then decided that it wasn’t for them.

A small investment of two water troughs and a couple of reels means you are set up with a very small investment.

Once you divide the area up into smaller sections it’s like a game of chess. Every move is a small move, so if you decide to take out a paddock, you are only taking out 1ha or less as opposed to having to take out half a field.

To go down the paddock route, you can do so very cheaply. It’s very simple and it’s reversible; if you are not happy with it or if you decide to make silage out of that field later, you just have to take up your reels and move on.