Farming in County Down, Dan Gilchrist is an engineer by profession. He entered farming with no formal agriculture qualification.
In 2014 Dan completed the Level II Agriculture Business Operations Course to develop his knowledge and skills and to gain a recognised agricultural qualification.
He then joined the CAFRE Business Development Group (BDG) scheme which initially opened for applications in November 2015. Dan explained: “The level II Agricultural Business Operations course consisted of classroom based learning with sessions taught largely during the winter months. It provided a good, sound, basic knowledge of agriculture. The BDG meetings are generally more practical and business focussed and mostly held out on farm. They allow me to observe practices being adopted in real terms, touched on what we learned in the Level II course but being implemented by the farmers in our BDG group.
“I am in a suckler BDG and I now have the opportunity to obtain a Level III agriculture qualification which will be very beneficial to my business going forward. I can complete the business planning module as I benchmark my farm business and the animal production module from the practical ideas which I pick up at the meetings. The Health and Safety module focuses on the SAFE (Slurry, Animals, Falls and Equipment) campaign and is a very important aspect to focus on.
“Meeting regularly our group discusses seasonal topics such as cattle breeding, grassland management, animal health, winter feeding and benchmarking / business planning.
“I have hosted one of the meetings on my farm which focused on a reseed which I wasn’t particularly happy with as it had not established as well as I would have liked. As a group we discussed how to bring about improvements to it; Twenty heads were better than one! Discussion was constructive. I took on board the suggestions and it has led to a complete transformation of the sward.
“Over the past couple of years I have adopted some of the technologies that are working on other group members farms. One major adoption has been the implementation of a paddock grazing system which has enabled me to grow more grass thereby allowing myself to carry more stock on the same grazing platform. As a result of this my stocking rate has increased and as my farm grows in productivity, an expansion plan is now in place.”
Whilst Dan is operating the paddocks he has been measuring grass covers to monitor grass growth to assist with the management of the grazing swards. Dan is using a grass plate meter to assess current grass cover and determine an early 2019 turnout date, weather permitting.