Whitecross farmer focuses on grass after joining Local Business Development Group

Date published: 10 October 2019

Mícheál Finnegan farms on a part-time basis in partnership with his father near Whitecross, County Armagh. He currently runs a herd of 35 spring calving Limousin X suckler cows which are now all bred via artificial insemination. Having completed a Level 2 in Agriculture through CAFRE, he decided four years ago that he wanted to further his knowledge and opted to join a suckler cow Business Development Group (BDG) with CAFRE.

Mícheál Finnegan viewing his grass covers in the farm office.

Mícheál highlighted the following about joining his BDG.

“Since joining my local discussion group in the Newry area I have developed a wider range of skills and thought process that is making a real difference while also improving my business performance. I have been able to hone in on the financial and physical strengths and weaknesses of my business using CAFRE’s benchmarking system, a service which is free through the discussion group. 

“I soon realised that grazing and the grazing infrastructure had a key role to play in increasing my overall farm profitability and could see the potential that my business had. I needed to improve on this area of management.

“Historically I would have been set stocked which was fine. However, I had to ask myself the question am I maximising grass growth? and also, am I utilising the biggest end of the grass that’s produced? The answer was no, I wasn’t!

“Seeing that there was room for improvement I discussed the options with my CAFRE beef and sheep adviser, Dominic Mason and we decided I needed to invest in grassland management infrastructure.  Mains electric fencing was purchased and erected on the perimeter of the farm. This enabled me to subdivide and graze fields in small 1-3 day blocks/paddocks using temporary electric fences. I erect a back fence behind each group of stock when I move them forward to the next block/paddock to stop them eating back over freshly grazed ground. This in turn allows each grass plant to fully develop over an 18-25 day period, before the next grazing. This system grows more grass and enables me to fully utilise it as I control the pre and post grazing heights. A win-win situation!

“After seeing the amount of grass which I could grow on the farm using the paddock system I decided to invest in a grass plate metre and associated computer software. Both of which assist me in the process of managing the grass to an even higher standard. I measure the grass in each field weekly and the computer programme generates a virtual picture of the amount of grass available in each field and the demand for the grass by the livestock. It informs me well in advance of an excess to demand which can be cut for silage or if a shortfall is arising. It also enables me to identify underperforming swards which can be earmarked for improvement.”

The Business Development Groups Scheme is part of the NI Rural Development Programme and is part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

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