Beef and sheep farmer Sam Chesney welcomed around 100 animal scientists to his Kircubbin farm recently, where he shared information about his low cost, grass-based system.
The visit was organised by AgriSearch as part of a number of excursions offered to scientists attending the annual meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) held in Belfast.
Sam, who farms 130 suckler cows and calves, has significantly reduced his animal feed costs by making the most of grass and forage on his farm.
Previously he was using a blend of 14-18% protein to feed his animals. By increasing forage utilisation he has been able to substitute this with a 12-14% blend - saving him £25 per tonne.
Employing a 21 day rotation system, he is ensuring that his animals are benefitting from high quality feed and getting the animals finished quicker through an increased focus on grassland management.
He is an advocate of Aber High Sugar Grass mixtures, provided by local supplier Morton’s, and views them as instrumental in maximising his animal performance.
Sam commented: “This spring I reseeded a field with Morton’s Balmoral Mixture, which includes AberEve, AberGain and AberMagic – all of which are top performing varieties on the DARD Recommended List.
“I also included ½ kg/acre of red clover and ½ kg/acre white clover in the mixture, as a great source of protein for the animals.
“For me, investing in reseeding and increasing forage utilisation makes sound financial sense.
“It costs around 16p per day per cow when the animals are out at grass, compared with £2 per day when they’re in-house – so I want to maximise their time at grass and make sure they are getting the highest quality feed possible.”
Sam is comfortably meeting his target of 1kg daily liveweight gain (DLWG, finishing bulls at around 400kg DW, Aberdeen Angus at around 330kg DW and heifers around 280 – 320kg DW.
He is typically achieving a calving interval of around 361-362 days, significantly better than the Northern Ireland average of 400 days.
Jonathan Hawthorne, Morton’s Co Down Technical Advisor commented: “Sam is committed to using top performing varieties which will ensure his animals are getting the most from forage.
“He also carries out soil analysis on a regular basis and limes his fields to ensure optimum conditions for growth.
“He’s a great believer in getting out and measuring his grass on a regular basis, so he knows which paddocks to cut out of the rotation to bale silage.
“An increased emphasis on grass utilisation and higher quality silage is clearly paying off for him in terms of stock performance.”
Sam added: “For me it’s all about utilisation. It’s not about how much you grow – it’s how you use it.
“ I make sure I’m hitting the right paddock at the right time by keeping a close eye on grass growth.
“I also use back fencing to ensure we’re hitting the residual target of 1500 Kg/DM/H and employ one day grazing where necessary to avoid poaching and compaction.”