‘We want to eliminate meal from the finishing period as much as possible’ – Sean Roddy

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

Aidan Murray, of Teagasc, chaired the session. He was joined by Sean Roddy, a suckler farmer from Co. Kildare, and by two of his colleagues in Teagasc, Christy Watson and Edward O’Riordan.

Kicking off the discussion, Aidan asked Sean what sort of system he is operating and the importance of utilising grass, on his farm, in order to meet targets.

What type of system are you operating and what is unique about it, in particular the emphasis you put on grass?

We run a 100% spring-calving herd. Two days after the cows calve they are turned out to grass. Once they are out on grass, it is peddle to the floor, as we want those cattle growing because the aim is to finish them off-grass at 18-22 months-of-age, with a carcass range of between 300kg and 340kg.

Grass is the fundamental part of getting them cattle off the farm at those ages and weights. Cattle are fed high-quality 80% dry matter digestibility (DMD) silage during the winter and high-quality grass during the summer. 

We want to eliminate meal from the finishing period as much as possible.

You don’t feed meal to weanlings or to finishing cattle? 

No meal is fed. The only time meal would come in is if we had a grass deficit. If I can make high-quality silage and manage my grass, then there is no issue with being able to finish cattle off-grass. 

Aidan then turned to Edward O’Riordan, of Teagasc Grange, to get his thoughts on soil testing and lime.

What are your thoughts on soil testing and the use of lime?

Anybody who wants to improve the output on their farm has to start with the soil. The basic building block has to be lime first and foremost. You wouldn’t build a house without having a foundation. Lime is the foundation of any productive land. 

So, whatever crop you’re growing, lime is essential. To me, soil testing is very important. If you carry out a soil test, you will then be able to correct the pH if needs be and it allows you to target areas of your farm that need phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

Soil testing is an absolute must. You have to know what’s in the soil. But, also, by applying lime, it means that the efficiency of which other nutrients are used is better. 

Edward O’Riordan of Teagasc

Moving to Christy Watson, Aidan asked him what he is seeing on the ground when it comes to soil testing results on farms.

What advice would you give to farmers that are low in P and K and what areas would you target first to get the best response with a low budget? 

The first priority is lime. The first job would be to correct the soil pH on the farm. The second thing is, we must realise there isn’t an unlimited amount of money on drystock farms. 

So, what farmers should be looking to do is to get the best returns from the limited resources that are there. The first thing I would look at is is the farm growing enough grass?

And, can we displace some other cost such as shortening the winter period by getting better grass growth in spring? If so, that would involve addressing the P and K levels in fields that you would be turning your cattle out to in spring first.

Secondly, we would look at silage fields. Generally, going by soil test results, you will be able to identify what fields have been cut for silage repeatedly. These fields will be low in K.

So we work around the budget the farmer has to spend. Farmers shouldn’t worry when the soil tests come back and there is a deficit across the whole farm.

We are not going to be looking for people to correct that deficit across the entire farm. Instead, we will target what money is available to where they will get the best returns, i.e. silage ground.

Christy Watson of Teagasc