ULSTER Grassland Society held its Summer Meeting on the farm of Declan Rafferty at Pomeroy with around 50
members and friends en-joying an informative and well organised farm.
Following a welcome cup of tea/coffee, UGS President Harold Johnston opened proceedings by
welcoming everyone to the farm walk and introducing Declan Raff-erty to the assembled group.
Declan added his welcome and outlined his farming policy with multi-faceted livestock and poultry enterprises. He farms 170 acres of improved grassland, on mainly heavy clay peat, in six blocks on which he runs 100 suckler cows. The farm is situated around 700ft above sea level and receives about 60in of rain annually.
The main farm objectives are to:
– Increase output from the farm;
– Grow and utilise more grass;
– Make high quality silage;
– Establish a clear vision for the farm and what is achievable integrating family/work life balance.
The suckler herd comprises 70 spring-calving and 30 autumn-calving cows which are mated to a Stabiliser bull and achieving a 365 day calving interval.
The Spring born male calves are sold as steers or bulls with the male calves from the autumn calving herd kept entire and sold as bulls at about 14 months of age.
Declan runs a Stabliser bull with the cows, with replacement heifers normally synchronised and run with a Limousin bull. These comprise selected heifers from the herd plus some purchased dairy origin heifer calves (Dairy Shorthorn x Fleckvieh).
The target weight of suckler cows has now been reduced to 650kgs.
The Spring born calves will be weaned over the next few weeks using QuietWean nose tags with the Autumn born calves weaned by grazing from the house at turnout with their cows kept in until after first cut silage.
In addition, Declan contract rears dairy heifers until point of calving, which is profitable and also helps improve cash flow for the business.
Declan has been part of the GrassCheck programme for the past five years and measures his swards during the grazing season with stock also weighed regularly. He carries out regular soil sampling and uses a ‘pan-buster’ when necessary to alleviate compaction.
He aims to make high quality silage for all his stock – 1,300 tonnes fresh weight silage made in 2021. Paddocks are grazed for three days in a 21-day rotation with target grass covers of 2,800-3,000 kgDM/Ha (pre-grazing) and 1,600-1,700 kgDM/Ha (post-grazing).
The main benefits of grass mea-surement, according to Declan, are “knowing how much grass is being grown”, “improving grass quality”, “increasing cattle performance”, “identifying the best and worst performing fields” and “helping targeted reseeding and soil im-provement”.
In recent years fertiliser usage has been reduced by applying slurry using a dribble bar between some grazings with good results on regrowth and grass utilisation/ clean out achieved.
Three cuts of silage are normally taken with reseeding undertaken regularly to address reducing performance in both silage and grazing swards. Declan mainly uses Aber grass varieties from recommended lists that are suitable for land type and use.
Plans for the future outlined by Declan included trying new grass varieties; focus on animal health to include precision dosing and reduce antibiotic use; synchronisation and fixed time AI and better traits focus using genetics.
During the tour of the farm by tractor and trailer there were ample opportunities for questions from the engaged audience with everyone impressed by Declan’s knowledge and openness in answering the varied questions asked by members.
On returning to the farmyard visitors were able to view some finishing bulls in the cattle housing and the impressive cattle handing facility which had been designed with animal welfare and operator safety in mind.
This UGS farm walk was supported by Gortavoy Feeds & Farm Supplies and members and friends then enjoyed an excellent supper before UGS President Elect David Linton ably proposed a vote of thanks to the host and his helpers, Gortavoy Feeds and the caterers before handing over a gift of appreciation to Declan Rafferty.
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