AI Drives Superior Breeding Performance at Newford Farm

on 07 September, 2018

More than 1,000 farmers gathered on Wednesday the 6th of September at Newford Suckler Demonstration Farm in Athenry, County Galway for an Open Day showcasing the learnings of the farm’s most challenging year of operation to date. 

The farm’s breeding policy is successfully producing calves from Angus and Hereford cross cows which are brought to finishing and produce carcass sizes that meet market requirements. A 10-week breeding program is implemented using AI and straws that are carefully selected to achieve the right balance between calving ease and good carcass growth.  

Cow type at Newford differs from the typical suckler herd, comprising first-cross Aberdeen Angus /Hereford cows, bred from the dairy herd for their docility and fertility traits This year’s crop of 105 calves includes 4 sets of twins which is indicative of high fertility levels within the herd with a calving interval of 362 days as compared to the national average of 396.

Farm Manager Matthew Murphy said: “In addition to losing 15.5 ha for a much needed school in Athenry, we like many other farms across the country have experienced a very challenging year, contending with a difficult spring, a delayed turnout of stock and, more recently, drought conditions. It is hard to believe that drought has been a feature of the year when one of the greatest challenges since the project began in 2015 has been dealing with high volumes of rainfall. 

The last three and a half years has highlighted many positive features of the production system, with the 100-cow first cross Angus and Hereford herd excelling in breeding and calving performance”.

The farm was established by Dawn Meats and Teagasc in 2015, with support from McDonald’s and additional technical assistance from the Irish Farmers Journal, to demonstrate best practice in sustainable suckler beef production. 

Newford Farm has set ambitious targets over it’s 7year term including:

  • Improved profitability: Increase gross margin over 5 years, from €495/ha in 2015 to €1,170/ha in 2020.  
  • Ambitious weight gain: Increase carcass weights of heifers from 280kg in 2015 to 330 kg in 2020, and from 295kg to 365kg for steers over the same period
  • Maximise grazing: Targeting over 200 days on grass based on a high stocking rate of 2.7 livestock units per hectare.
  • Reduce variable costs: Newford aims to reduce variable costs as a percentage of total output from 74% in 2015 to 45% in 2020.

The Open Day, which was a KT approved event offered guided walking tours of the farm every half hour from 2pm to 6pm giving visitors the chance to see the production system in action and learn how it has dealt with the many challenges of the last 12 months from extremely heavy rainfall starting in September 2017 through to the drought conditions of summer 2018. 

Representatives from key industry organisations including Bord Bia, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and Agri-aware were in attendance, with representatives from Dawn Meats, Teagasc and the Irish Farmers Journal on site to answer farmers’ queries.

Key areas for discussion included:

  • Grassland Management: The high stocking rate of 2.7LU/ha puts pressure on grass demand, and attendees discussed the approach used at Newford, where growth rates range from 15kgs /week/Ha to 140kgs/week/ha across the year with the farm divided into 72 grazing paddocks. Grass growth rates are closely monitored weekly to allow effective management decisions on grass useage..
  • Herd Health: Newford’s comprehensive herd health plan drawn up in conjunction with the farm Vet was explained in detail, giving the full breakdown of the herd vaccination program including biosecurity measures taken in consideration of  the large number of visitors to the farm annually 
  • Breeding Approach: Breeding performance is the foundation for high herd output, with Newford targeting the herd to produce greater than 0.95 calves/cow/year.  A 10-week breeding program is implemented using AI and straws are carefully selected to achieve the right balance between calving ease and good carcass growth.  
  • Planning and Data Gathering: Newford is working to a 5-year farm plan and careful gathering of data by Teagasc is a key component of successful implementation, with particular attention paid to the potential to operate the farm as a one-man unit.
  • Data Analysis: In considering future plans for the farm each area of performance is analysed and areas for improvement are identified. These improvement targets are then prioritised in successive updates of the plan so that progress can be closely monitored by the stakeholder group.

Niall Browne, CEO of Dawn Meats said: “Sharing best practice and developing practical steps to improve the sustainability of Irish beef farming was a key objective for establishing the farm at Newford. We are delighted with the high turnout today and it shows Irish farmers have a real appetite to carefully consider and challenge in equal measure, the practices implemented on the farm and where appropriate adapt their farm systems to improve output and enhance herd management.” 

Newford Farm is located in Athenry, Co Galway just off Junction 17 of the M6 motorway.  For more information and regular updates on progress at the farm please visit at www.newfordsucklerbeef.ie  

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