Green, green grass of home: John Macnamara with Pádraic, Ailbhe and Conor on their Knockainey farm which hosts an open day next Wednesday Picture: Michael Cowhey
“COWS eat the grass,” says three-year-old Conor Macnamara.
John and Olivia Macnamara’s youngest child succinctly sums up the purpose of grassland management. But like in all walks of life there is the right way and wrong way of doing things.
The Macnamaras do things the right way on their dairy farm in Knockainey. John and Olivia are the 2018 Grassland Farmer of the Year winners.
Next Wednesday, April 24, from 11am to 1pm, farmers will have the opportunity to see how they manage their grass. They grew 15 tonnes of grass dry matter per hectare consistently from 2012 to 2017. There is huge focus on grassland management and those who come to the open day will see how a grassland farm is set up to achieve 280 to 290 days at grass.
John says they will talk about how they have done this spring - how much grass they have grown and how much fertiliser has gone out.
“We will focus on soil fertility. We will also go on and look at infrastructure on the farm - what we have spent over the last number of years to bring it to a level where we can grow that 15 or 16 tonnes of grass and utilise 12 or 13 tonnes of grass,” said John. As if farmers don’t have enough to worry about, sustainability is a growing concern.
“We will talk about the whole energy efficiency of the farm in relation to the amount of milk produced. The amount of carbon that farmers produce and how we can reduce that,” said John.
The final board will be on where the farm will be in 20 years.
“What do we need to keep focusing on? What are our priorities?” said John.
His ethos is running a simple efficient system that is enjoyable, profitable and sustainable. Spending time with their four children - Caoimhe, aged 14; Pádraic, 12; Ailbhe, 10 and Conor, 3 - and enjoying off-farm pursuits are key. As well as being heavily involved with Knockainey Ladies Gaelic Football club, John is on the management team of the county U14 ladies football team. They won a Munster final on Saturday and now look forward to the All-Ireland series.
From young farmers starting out to grizzled veterans, everyone will learn something from the open day on the Macnamara farm.
“I'm a firm believer in knowledge - it’s the key thing. Every day you are learning and every day you are making yourself more knowledgeable in grassland. That certainly helped me to win the competition. I'd always have an open mind on things, but over the last number of years I have really gotten myself up to date on grassland management - whether that was the type of varieties we set, or the amount of grass we can grow. I suppose to have the knowledge of anything is key,” he explained.
The son of Mary and the late Paddy took over the farm in 1994. Two years later, with the assistance of Tom Shanahan, John became a monitor farmer with Kerry.
“That started us off with grassland management. Within 12 months we reseeded our first paddocks. Ever since then we have seen that grass is outside our door, it’s within five yards of our milking parlour, it’s a real cheap feed and a very good feed. It’s only now that we are beginning to see the benefits and fruits of grass.
“That means walking the farm once a week, maybe this time of year every four days. You're filling in the computer, you're doing budgets, there’s so much out there now to take the gamble out of grassland management - different computer packages and PastureBases set up by Teagasc," said John.
The open day is supported by Teagasc, Dept of Agriculture, AIB, Farmers Journal, Grassland Agro and AIB. All welcome to Knockainey.