The issue of carbon and sustainability was the topic of a recent farm walk at the dairy farm of James Murphy, of Ballyreagh, Tempo, organised by the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

The aim of the farm walk was to emphasise the importance of high levels of farm efficiency to assist in improving environmental performance and sustainability and improve profitability.

The farm walk was sponsored by the Vaughan Trust and was open to all dairy farmers.
Christopher Breen, CAFRE Dairying Advisor, who runs Business Development Groups (BDGs) in Fermanagh, explained the background to the event and the programme for the farm walk.

Mr. Murphy gave an overview of his family farm and its physical and financial performance.

The farm extends to 79 hectares, of which 60 hectares are owned; 110 autumn-calving dairy cows plus followers are kept; and 70 per cent of cows calve between mid-August and the end of September, with all calved by the end of January.

The average milk yield per cow is 7,359 litres from 2.28 tonnes of concentrates.

The average butterfat and protein levels are 4.34 per cent and 3.47 per cent respectively.

Good quality forage production is key on this farm, with cows grazed and high-quality silage fed.

All herd replacements are home-bred using 100 per cent AI and a totally closed herd is maintained.

Sexed dairy semen is used on a proportion of the herd with the remainder being served to AI Aberdeen Angus or British Blue bulls.

Mr. Murphy aims to calve dairy heifers at two years of age; to achieve this, a high level of management is required.

Lauren Curry, a carbon technologist from CAFRE, gave a presentation on ‘Understanding Carbon’

She explained the terms associated with Greenhouse Gases and the background to carbon benchmarking of farms, and discussed the figures for the Murphy farm, as well as referring to areas where a farm’s carbon footprint could be reduced. 

Trevor Alcorn, CAFRE Dairying Advisor, brought the group to look at two batches of heifer replacements and in conjunction with Mr. Murphy discussed their management to achieve certain targets.

Mr. Murphy regularly uses a weigh band to measure heifer growth rates. A sense-hub system is used to identify heats and rumination in both cows and heifers.

This helps to achieve a compact calving pattern, and assists in the achievement of heifers calving at two years old.

Kieran McCartan, CAFRE agri-environment adviser, then outlined the nutrient management on the farm, the importance of soil analysis, liming where necessary, and tailoring fertiliser requirements based on crop requirements and the level of slurry applied.

A farm should have a nutrient management plan to achieve this and to avoid any potential issues with nutrient runoff which may affect water quality.

Protected urea was discussed, which not only is a more efficient use of nitrogen, but also results in lower ammonia losses into the atmosphere, which could be detrimental to air quality.

The use of clover when reseeding was also discussed as a means of reducing nitrogen inputs and Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Jane Sayers, CAFRE Dairying Advisor, discussed the importance of cow nutrition with high-quality forage, both grass and silage, being the key to profitability.

Cows are fed a base level of concentrates through the 16/32-point parlour, with the remainder being fed to yield through four ‘out of parlour’ feeders.

Concentrate type and levels of protein in the concentrates were also discussed, with an emphasis on reducing concentrate crude protein levels, where possible, to help reduce emissions without impacting cow performance.

Take-home messages were positive, in that if a dairy farmer adheres to good management, strives to improve efficiencies in feeding, breeding and nutrient management, then there will be a positive outcome in terms of carbon.