- Date: 21 Jan 2020
- Venue: Dunadry Hotel, Templepatrick
Getting back to business’ theme at UGS Conference
The 61st Annual Conference of the Ulster Grassland Society took place on 21st January 2020 when almost 200 delegates gathered at The Dunadry Hotel, Templepatrick to hear a number of excellent presentations focused on getting back to business.
The Conference was chaired by newly elected Society President Charlie Kilpatrick who introduced all of the speakers and kept proceedings to time.
The opening speaker was farmer and business consultant Tony Evans from The Andersons Centre who gave a wide-ranging presentation on his views of business management and the importance of developing young people in farming. He considered that “challenges really are opportunities” and encouraged delegates to focus on balance sheet growth.
He also highlighted the importance of having one third of income to cover variable costs; one third to cover fixed costs and one third for you.
Next speaker was dairy farmer Roger Hildreth who outlined his grass based dairy farming operation in the Vale of York where he is endeavouring to “develop a sustainable and successful farming business for the next generation”. His dairy herd of 110 cows is currently achieving 4,779 litres of milk from forage.
On the farm there is a major focus on rearing dairy replacements with attention to detail key to success. Heifers are targeted to have a 400kg bulling weight having achieved 0.82 kgs DLWG per day with extensive use of calf coats and routine veterinary tasks avoided during poor weather. All heifers are genomic tested with sexed semen used to allow the bottom 10% heifers to be excluded from the herd to ensure better genetic progress.
Roger highlighted many of the challenges facing farming at present including veganism and climate change which is a particular focus on his farm.
After lunch, which is always a good opportunity for further discussion, Nick Davis from Wales outlined his farming career and the development / growth of his farm since completing a Nuffield farming scholarship. His switch to dairying in 2014 was significant as the farm ranges from 1100-1420’ above sea level with herd size peaking at 580 cows although numbers have now settled at 480 cows – achieving similar herd production levels on 100 fewer cows.
Grass management is focused on soil fertility and reseeding to maximise production from grass. They have an interesting division of labour on the farm – ‘if it requires wellies then Nick does it, if the job requires shoes his wife Frances is responsible’
Important measures of success on the farm are time efficiency; facilities / infrastructure and cow size / breeding with uniform cows required to match cow body weight and milk solids produced – in 2019 cows averaged 475kgs live weight and produced 472kgs milk solids / cow.
He concluded by highlighting the Straight Face Test – Can we justify everything we do with a straight face?
The final session looked at the potential for dairy bred beef particularly the Blade farming scheme. The panel comprised Arthur Callaghan, ABP Calf Rearing Programme, John Egerton a calf rearer from Rosslea in Co Fermanagh and Trevor Burns a calf finisher from Ballyedmond Farms, Rostrevor, Co Down. Key benefits of this system include a sustainable outlet for dairy bred calves, structured roles in the process and sustainability from beef and environmental aspects. The topic generated good discussion with intense audience participation reflecting the relevance of this subject for dairy farmers and indeed the wider beef sector.
Throughout the day delegates, which included a number of students from CAFRE’s Greenmount Campus, were able to interact though Slido with questions for the speakers accessed online and this proved very successful.
The Conference was closed by presentation of gifts to all the speakers and a vote of thanks ably proposed by new UGS President Elect Harold Johnston.