Claire Beckett, who farms in Donaghcloney with her father John, took home the overall Grassland Farmer of the Year award and will go on to represent the Ulster region in the British Grassland Society Awards this year. Banbridge farmer Gordon Mitchell was named runner up, while Jonny Hutchinson of Tobermore was presented a special commendation. All three were recognised by the judges for their excellence in dairy farming.
The Beckett family farm in Donaghcloney spans 200 acres, where Claire, in partnership with her father John, runs a 150 cow Holstein Friesian herd averaging 10,000 litres per cow. Excellent sward management plays an important role in the success of this farm business, with grass regularly tested for DM and quality. Recording and using farm data is also key for Claire and in recent years, the improved recording and measurement of diets has added 1,500 – 2,000 litres to animal productivity. Fertility has also been a key focus for the farm, with recent improvements being attributed to Claire implementing a full DCAB diet for dry cows. Grass silage is grown specifically for dry cows with those fields receiving no slurry until the end of the year.
Runner up Gordon Mitchell farms in Banbridge with wife Linda. The family runs an 80-cow autumn calving Holstein herd, farming 170 acres. The farm has focused on improving efficiency and creating a sustainable forage-based business capable of buffering the increasing volatility in input costs. From 2016 to 2021, the farm has increased milk yields from 6409 litres per cow to 8223 litres per cow, at the same time increasing milk from forage from 2788 litres per cow to 3392 litres per cow, with a 0.5% and 0.4% increase in milk fat and protein respectively.
Jonny Hutchinson from Tobermore was recognised with a special commendation. Jonny runs a herd of 100 pedigree Jersey cows achieving an impressive 6,800 litres per cow at 5.1% fat and 3.74%. Winter diets on the farm are supported by good quality forage with his second cut silage last year analysing at 13.6% protein and 12.1 ME. 15 acres of maize is grown and harvested each year to complement the grass silage. In 2021, cows grazed from April through to November, maximising use of grazed grass in the diet of later lactation animals.
Speaking about the winners, Dale Farm Chair Fred Allen said: “We are delighted that three Dale Farm dairy farmers have recently been recognised for their excellence in grassland farming and these awards are a testament to the sheer expertise and innovation on our members’ farms. Judges highlighted the attention to detail paid by Claire, Gordon and Jonny, and that commitment to quality is crucial to maximising farm performance. On behalf of all of us at Dale Farm I would like to congratulate all winners for these well-deserved accolades.”
The Ulster Grassland Society brings together farmers, advisers, lecturers, researchers and technical members of the agricultural industry and is the biggest grassland society within the UK with around 500 members.