Cathal and Peter Breen, farmers in Co. Wexford are one of the Life Beef Carbon Observatory Farms and are contributing to curbing the impact of climate change by reducing the carbon footprint of beef production on their farm.
Since 2016, the Breens have mitigated the net carbon emissions or footprint of beef by 33% to 8.2 kg CO2 equivalent/kg live weight gain (LWG). The Breens have markedly reduced beef carbon footprint by tackling the challenges in the BETTER farm programme and by implementing the measures outlined in the LIFE BEEF CARBON action plan. The twin approach to combating climate change has improved the efficiency and productivity of the Breens’ beef enterprise, which has helped to improve the farm income.
Changes on the Farm
The Breen family targeted areas such as paddock grazing, and correcting soil pH, as well as adjusting P and K indices. They also made improvements to monitoring grass covers and cutting silage when grass quality was at its highest. The Breens run a grass based suckler to beef production systems and bring some surplus calves from nearby dairy producers to beef. Similar to many Irish cattle farms, the Breens were lightly stocked prior to the BETTER farms program and mainly grew permanent pasture with very little reseeding taking place. The Wexford beef producers have increased stocking rate in the last few years by improving grassland management and soil fertility.
Home Grown Feed
In addition, the Breens began growing some cereals on fallow areas and have reduced the finishing age of cattle, without compromising production. The latter change has been an important contributor to the improvement in the farm’s beef carbon footprint as almost all on farm feed requirements come from the farm itself. The Breens calve suckler cows in spring & turn the animals out to pasture once weather permits. The introduction of paddock grazing has allowed for the fields closest to the house to be closed off for grazing at the correct time in the Autumn. This has allowed for grass covers to remain high over the winter and the turnout of cows and calves not get delayed in the Spring. The herd typically graze outdoors for 245-280 days per annum. Fresh grass makes up the bulk or all of the herds diet during the height of the grass growing season in late Spring and Summer. When grass growth consistently exceeds the herd feed requirements, a section of the farm is usually closed for silage and harvested 6-8 weeks after closing. Cattle are put back into the sheds when ground conditions become unsuitable for grazing in Autumn or Winter. The introduction of the paddock system, as well as grass reseeding has helped grass growth in the shoulders of the year and means that grass continues to grow into the later Autumn months. The diets fed to the herd indoors consists of silage, straw and supplements mixed with minerals.
The Breens further diluted emissions from suckler cows by bringing dairy cattle to beef which has increased output per acre and spread emissions over a greater number of animals and therefore are producing more Kgs. of beef without dramatically effecting overall emissions. Several of the measures the Breens selected from the carbon action plan targeted efficiency and were often “win-wins” i.e. reduced carbon footprint and production costs.
The Breen family has demonstrated that by implementing a suite of efficiency measures, substantial improvements in carbon footprint are possible. Their aim is now to continue refining the new practices, and technologies they have adopted since joining the initiative, with the expectation of improving the viability of their beef enterprise while contributing towards meeting LIFE BEEF CARBON’s sustainability goals.