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Choice of Cow Type Drives Performance at Newford Farm

09 June 2016

IRELAND - Hundreds of farmers gathered at Newford Suckler Demonstration Farm in Athenry, County Galway for an Open Day showcasing the achievements and learnings of the farm’s first full year of operations. The farm’s breeding policy is successfully producing calves which gain weight rapidly and will deliver carcass sizes that meet market requirements.

Cow type at Newford differs from the norm, comprising mainly first-cross Aberdeen Angus cows, bred from the dairy herd for their excellent milk yield potential off grass, thereby minimizing the need for use of bought in concentrates.

This year’s crop of 90 calves is on track to reach 50% of their mother’s weight within 6 months, with performance helped by the recent improved weather and a surge in grass growth at the farm.

Farm Manager Matthew Murphy said: “The Newford system is all about driving efficiency and reducing reliance on factors farmers cannot control, like the price of bought-in feed. Everyone visiting the farm today has been impressed by how well the calves are looking and their rapid weight gain. We are encouraging farmers to focus on the profitability and efficiency of their farm system rather than showcasing what might be a very good looking animal, but one that isn’t what the market is looking for and cannot be reproduced consistently. What farmers may lose in carcass size they will more than make up for through the lower cost of production.”

The 56 hectare farm was established by Dawn Meats and Teagasc in 2015, with support from McDonalds and the Irish Farmers Journal, to demonstrate best practice in sustainable suckler beef production.

Newford has ambitious targets to improve profitability of the herd of 100 cattle over a 5 year plan. Key targets include:

  • Improved profitability: Increase gross margin by over 130% in 5 years, from €495/ha in 2015 to €1,170/ha in 2020. This is more than double the €532/ha average for suckler farms according to the Teagasc eProfit monitor survey in 2014.
  • Reduce variable costs: Newford aims to reduce variable costs as a percentage of total output from 74% in 2015 to 45% in 2020
  • Ambitious weight gain: Increase carcass weights of heifers from 280kg in 2015 to 330 kg in 2020, and from 295kg to 365kg for steers
  • Maximise grazing: Targeting over 200 days on grass based on a high stocking rate of 2.7 livestock units per hectare

The Open Day offered guided walking tours of the farm every half hour from 2pm to 7pm giving visitors the chance to see the production system in action and learn how it dealt with the impact of a difficult Spring. Representatives from key industry organizations including Bord Bia, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, along with experts from Dawn Meats, Teagasc and the Irish Farmers Journal on site to answer farmers’ queries.

Key areas for discussion included:

  • Cow Type: Cow type at Newford comprises mainly first-cross Aberdeen Angus cows, bred from the dairy herd, with a small percentage of Hereford-cross-Friesian cows. The cow type has strong maternal traits and is an efficient converter of grass to milk, resulting in good daily live weight gains in the calf crop.
  • Grassland Management: The high stocking rate of 2.7LU/ha puts pressure on grass demand, and attendees discussed the approach used at Newford, where growth rates hit over 100 kg DM/ha (dry matter per hectare) last week, with the farm divided into 72 grazing divisions and grass growth rates closely monitored.
  • Herd Health: Newford’s comprehensive herd health plan was explained in detail, given the high stocking rate puts extra pressure on the herd. Given the high number of visitors to the Newford farm the importance of a good biosecurity protocol is critical.
  • Breeding Approach: Breeding performance is the foundation for high herd output, with Newford targeting the herd to produce more than 0.95 calves/cow/year through careful sire selection. A seven-week Artificial Insemination cycle kicked off on the 30 April. Sires are selected to achieve the right balance between calving ease and good carcass growth.
  • Planning and Data Gathering: Newford is working to a 5 year farm plan and careful gathering and analysis of data is a key component of successful implementation, with particular attention paid to the potential to operate the farm as a one-man unit

Niall Browne, CEO of Dawn Meats: “The idea to establish the Newford Herd was all about sharing best practice and developing practical examples to improve the profitability and sustainability of Irish beef farming. Dawn Meats is delighted to have supported this initiative, and the high turnout today proves that Irish farmers are not only willing to look at alternative production models, but have a real appetite to adapt their farms in order to deliver the type of animal that will give them the best return on all their hard work and investment.”

Professor Gerry Boyle, Director of Teagasc: “Today’s Open Day on the Newford herd at Teagasc, Athenry provided beef farmers with a great opportunity to see how the application of key technologies in relation to grassland management and best breeding management practices have on the performance of suckler beef herds. Today farmers will get the chance to get updated on both the physical and financial performance of the Newford farm and see how, over the past 12 months, the farm has invested in infrastructure and livestock which will allow the farm achieve the ambitious targets set out in the farm plan.”

Adrian Crean, Managing Director of McDonalds Ireland said: “At McDonald’s we have a clear and ongoing commitment to responsible and sustainable sourcing globally and we aspire to be leaders in this regard. We have bold targets agreed with our key suppliers which require active collaboration in order to reach our sustainability goals. Through the establishment of this farm at Newford, McDonald’s is again demonstrating our role as an industry leader and our commitment to work with others in the industry to share best practices, collaborate and learn – leading to better outcomes for farmers, our customers, local communities and the environment.”

Justin McCarthy, Editor of the Irish Farmers Journal, said: “The Newford Herd is an excellent example of how a well run demonstration farm can promote the uptake of best practice principles among farmers. Today's farm walk has allowed farmers from across the country see a herd of cows and a beef production system that in many ways challenges the traditional approach. The openness and transparency around both the physical and financial performance of the farm will allow farmers over time to assess the merits of this system and its suitability to their own farms and also look at potential ways that labour can be taken out of the system.”

Newford Farm is located in Athenry, Co Galway just off Junction 17 of the M6 motorway.

For more information and regular updates on progress at the farm please visit at

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