For this week’s Beef Focus, Agriland paid a visit to a beef farm near Kells, Co. Meath,which buys up to 200 head of store cattle/week at peak both at marts and directly from beef farmers across Ireland.

Spawood Farms is owned by Frank Mallon, a name that needs little introduction in Irish beef farming circles.

A butcher by trade, Frank is the founder of the beef processing outlet Liffey Meats. While he has stepped back from the management of the beef-processing company, he maintains a keen interest in the running of his farm which is managed by Ronair Alves with the help of Colin Brady and a team of skilled staff.

The farm recently hosted a farm walk for beef farmers supplying Liffey Meats to showcase steps it is taking to reduce its carbon footprint and improve the efficiency of its beef-finishing operations. Approximately 40 farmers were in attendance at the event.

Liffey Meats’ procurement manager Robert Cole was the tour guide on the day. He explained that the farm is run as a standalone business and must stand up for itself from a commercial point of view.

Some of the interesting technologies on the farm include a slurry separator, a GreenFeed bin, self-propelled diet feeders and quick-attach drinkers which can be easily moved to facilitate paddock grazing.

Multi-species swards and clover are being examined for incorporated use on the farm’s grazing platform.

The facilities on the farm include straw-bedded housing, slatted housing, and top-class grazing infrastructure to cater for up to 800 cattle at grass, in batches of 50-60 head.

The grazing season generally runs from February to November on the farm and cattle are allocated fresh breaks of grass with a back fence used to allow for paddock recovery.

On arrival to the farm, cattle are housed in straw-bedded pens with access to water and feed. All cattle are checked in to the farm where they are weighed, visually graded, vaccinated and given a farm identification (ID) tag.

Cattle are then sorted, with the lighter-type cattle going to grass and stronger-type cattle being housed for finishing. Cattle spend a minimum of 70 days on the farm.

Beef farm sustainability

Liffey Meats’ Padraig Burns gave an overview of the GreenFeed system which has been installed on the farm to measure methane from the cattle at grass.

He said the technology is still in an early stage and data collection is underway to identify trends in emissions from beef cattle.

A slurry separator has been recently installed on the farm to facilitate the export of manure.

The machine removes solids from the slurry where they can be taken away for use in an anaerobic digestor. The liquid left behind is then spread on land using a Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) system.

The dried manure is similar in texture to compost and can be spread on land using a dung spreader. In many countries, this compost-like material is used for bedding livestock.

The remainder of the dung and slurry is spread on the farm and is targeted towards silage and tillage ground to reduce the farm’s need for chemical fertiliser.

In recent years, the farm has increased the area of land used for crop production to further increase the level of animal feed self-sufficiency.

Improving feed conversion efficiency and daily liveweight gain while reducing slaughter age are all sustainability aspects the farm is working on to further improve.

Byproduct grains from the brewing and distilling industries are also used in the Total Mixed Ration (TMR) diets of cattle at finishing.

In recent years, new hedgerows have been set and plots of native trees have been planted throughout the farm to improve biodiversity and act as nature corridors through the farm for wildlife.


All shed cattle are fed twice-a-day and the machine of choice for feeding is a self-propelled diet feeder. On the front of the feeder wagon is a rotating auger that loads the ingredients for the TMR into the wagon where the feed is mixed and fed out fresh to the cattle in the morning and evening.

The video below shows the self-propelled feeder wagon in operation:

There are two diets on the farm, a starter diet and a finisher diet. These diets have been tailored to the farm’s needs and procurement manager Robert Cole said he is currently “very happy with the level of finish” the diet is putting on the cattle coming from the farm.

Most of the cattle finished on the farm are are grading an O, as they are primarily Angus-sired heifers and steers bred off the dairy herd.

The farm previously finished all continental bulls but in recent years, has transitioned to finishing primarily Angus heifers and steers. Cole said this is primarily due to changing market demands.

A range of crops are grown on the farm too, including wheat and maize which are used for feed on the farm.

Most years, three cuts of pit silage are taken and there is a big emphasis on securing high dry matter digestibility (DMD) silage, further increasing the level of homegrown feed on the farm.

Looking to the future, the farm plans to continue to develop and grow in terms of sustainability while working to reduce its carbon footprint by adapting and trialing new emission-reducing technologies as they come available.