THE Ulster Farmers’ Union’s beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney has won the 2020 Farmers’ Weekly Grassland Manager of the Year award sponsored by Germinal.
UFU deputy president William Irvine said: “We are delighted to learn that Sam has won this notable award. Grass is the UK’s most valuable crop, and the award is given to the farmer who makes the best use of their grassland, creating high-quality nutritional feed for their livestock.
“Sam’s goal is to get the most from his land and he utilised 92
per cent of grass growth in 2019. It is a remarkable figure and highlights his excellent grass management system, hard work and dedication.
“Sam was up against the best grassland managers in the UK and as a very passionate beef and sheep farmer from Kircubbin, County Down, he is a great representative for the Northern Ireland farming industry.”
In his citation for the award, the judges said: “Sam Chesney is two times more profitable than the average beef farmer in Northern Ireland. Much of this success can be attributed to the fact he grows nearly three times more grass.
“Sam’s approach is to get the most from the land he has. He was encouraged to adopt a paddock grazing system after a visit to the Republic of Ireland and is now making use of every blade of grass grown on the farm.
“The system has been honed since 2010 and a notable 13.23t/ha (5.36t/acre) was grown last year. However, what is more impressive is the amount used – 92 per cent. This is no mean feat given the farm receives 1,016mm of rain annually.
“Sam has moved to earlier lambing in January to meet the demands of his Tesco contract. This suits his climate and allows him to make the most of peak growth in the spring.
“High-index Charollais and Meatlinc rams are chosen for growth to aid early finishing, with all lambs sold by June.
“Suckler cows calve over 10 weeks starting on March 10, and the farm uses Black Limousin and Charolais bulls within the top one per cent for growth and ease of calving.
“Cows are grazed in mobs of 30-40 and rotated around 1ha (2.4-acre) paddocks every three days.
“Sam is also improving grass use by planting hedges to provide stock with shelter against the prevailing east coast winds from the Irish sea and skipping exposed paddocks.
“He has extended the grazing season by planting rape cross kale and stubble turnips in sheltered paddocks.
“Data drives every decision he makes.”
Sam said: “We carefully look at utilisation and follow up with soil sampling, which will form the basis of our reseeding plan.”
Top-scoring varieties are selected from the Recommended List and Sam chooses highly palatable mixes with grass samples taken every two weeks. New seed is stitched in where possible following brassica crops.
He is reducing bought-in concentrates by growing 2.4ha (60 acres) of red clover to feed to bulls, with just a finishing blend purchased to make up their total mixed ration.
The whole farm is GPS mapped and nutrients are applied in accordance to soil tests. Farmyard manure is applied to the grazing platform and slurry is spread on the silage ground using low-pressure tyres and a trailing shoe to limit compaction.
Last year he began finishing 50 Angus-cross calves on contract for Blade. Calves arrive at 12 weeks, weaned. Heifers are currently averaging 1kg/day on a herbal ley being trialled this year. He said: “The Blade calves were introduced to improve our cashflow and make the most of early spring grass.”
For Sam, forging good relationships with his buyers is fundamental to good business performance.
“We are trying to have money coming in every month. I think the way forward is for farmers to get themselves aligned. I know exactly what they will be paying for lambs next February.”
They are already producing 1,600kg of liveweight/ha (647.8kg/acre), but Sam’s ambition is to increase this further and lift sheep numbers by 50 to capitalise on the farm’s good early growing conditions while farming in a sustainable manner.