3 April 2020

 

A Welsh suckler beef herd is achieving carbon emissions that are 17% lower than average. 

Paul and Dwynwen Williams run a herd of 60 suckler cows and intensively finish 120 dairy-bred Holstein bulls a year at Cae Haidd Ucha, a Farming Connect focus site near Llanrwst, finishing progeny on forage only.

Their suckler enterprise emits 33.65kg of kg CO2e (equivalent - methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide)/kg deadweight.

This compares to an average of 40.68kg CO2e for the 600 similar enterprises benchmarked in the SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) AgRE Calc database.

The analysis was carried out by researchers from SAC Consulting as part of a Farming Connect study, and has enabled the Williams’ to identify areas for improvement too. 

For the dairy beef enterprise, emissions were higher than the 12.59 CO2e/kg dwt average for the benchmark farms in the database, but it still generates a lower carbon footprint per kg of beef than the suckler beef system.

It emitted 14.48kg CO2e/kg dwt equivalent, with each animal consuming 271kg purchased feed and 4.937t of homegrown forage. 

The reason the dairy beef enterprise was higher is because benchmark farms are all indoor intensive dairy bull beef units while Cae Haidd Ucha is the only grass-based dairy beef rearing unit, explains Simon Travis, of SAC Consulting. 

Dairy bull fattening systems generally have an advantage over steer finishing systems on carbon emission calculations because the carbon emissions of the complete life cycle in beef suckler herds, including all the breeding animals, must be factored into the calculation, he says.

“Dairy bred beef calves that have been bought in do not carry this burden from breeding,’’ says Mr Travis.

 

How emissions are kept low

The Williams’ are able to keep emissions low by achieving good liveweight gain from home-grown forage, explains Mr Travis.

Homegrown silage use per cow per year at Cae Haidd Ucha in the year to September 2019 was 8.764t freshweight, with progeny achieving a daily liveweight gain of 0.75kg/day.

Cae Haidd Ucha’s carbon performance is helped by efficient forage production. 

10% of the farm is reseeded annually with ryegrass and all permanent pasture is less than six years old; this ensures pastures remain productive and achieve good yields and quality. 

Meanwhile, 6.6ha of woodland mitigates emissions through soil carbon sequestration, the process of capturing atmospheric carbon in trees and soil.

Cattle from both beef enterprises are at grass in the summer when they are run on a rotational grazing system of paddocks and electric fences.

Stock are housed in the winter since the upland farm sits in the foothills of Snowdon and, at 2.7m/year, has a high rainfall.

 

Areas for improvement

The Williams’ say that understanding where emissions are generated in their business will allow improvements to be prioritised.

They are targeting manure and fertiliser management as areas for improvement –GPS guidance for application could help reduce their fertiliser inputs from the current 40kgN/ha.

They also aim to improve the feed value of their silage by increasing energy and protein levels from the current 11.5MJ/kg dry matter (DM) and 10.8g/kg crude protein (CP) for clamp silage and 10.0MJ/kg DM and 13.8g/kg CP for baled silage.

 

BOX: Cae Haidd Ucha farm facts

  • 121ha owned
  • 5.6ha on long term FBT
  • 32ha heft on Hiraethog Moors
  • Land on the main holding ranges between 800 feet and 1,200 feet
  • Majority of land used for silage and grazing, with around 32ha of rough pasture
  • Steers from the suckler herd are sold as stores at 450kg and heifers at 400kg
  • Intensively finish 120 dairy-bred Holstein bulls a year, selling these to a finishing unit at 400kg at an average of 16 months.

         Table 1:                         Carbon emissions at Cae Haidd Ucha

 

kg CO2/kg deadweight at Cae Haidd Ucha

Opportunity level

Comparison farms in the SRUC database

kg CO2/kg deadweight

Enteric fermentation

18.08

Low

21.19

Manure management

7.76

Low

8.84

Fertiliser

5.95

Medium

5.12

Purchased bedding

0.22

Low

0.73

Fuel

1.29

Low

1.45

Other

0.17

Low

1.07

Total emissions

33.65

Low

40.68


Farming Connect has launched a new online tool to help Welsh farmers put in place changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their businesses.
The interactive tool gives advice on achievable steps farmers can take to reduce emissions, such as reducing cow size from 700kg to 500kg and increasing number of calves reared by 5%, from 80% to 85%.
The tool also highlights the positive messages that farmers make to the climate, such as the ability of farm soils to store large amounts of carbon, and the role agriculture has in providing clean drinking water and habitats. 

https://businesswales.gov.wales/farmingconnect/reducing-ghg-emissions


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