Ulster Grassland Society recently hosted a successful visit to the Kilkeel farm of James, and Brenda Henderson.

The business is managed by the couple and a number of family members.

Their farm extends to 150ac; 135ac are in grass, the remainder is sown out in cereals.

Given the sandy soil and seaside location, the farm is prone to drought. Over the years, soil nutrition and fertility has been improved with the benefit of soil sampling and today boasts pH of 6.2 across the farm with a phosphorous (P) Index of 2 and potassium (K) Index of 3.

The main enterprises on the farm comprise a dairy-bred calf-to-beef operation and a flock of 250 breeding ewes.

A successful calf-to-beef system is one of the main enterprises on the Kilkeel farm of the Henderson family. James, his wife Brenda and family members recently hosted an Ulster Grassland Society visit

The Hendersons’ overall objective is to operate the farm business as efficiently as possible with consideration for the environment.

The overriding priority is to optimise the production and utilisation of grass, while reducing concentrate feeding levels, in order to produce high quality beef and lamb.

The dairy-bred beef operation centres on the purchase of Aberdeen-Angus / British Blue heifers in October / November, mainly from the marts.

These animals are then reared on the farm and finished at around two-years-of-age with a carcass weight of 320-340kg. A mix of O+/R carcass grades is normally achieved.

Calves receive up to 300kg meal during their first winter and rely on quality silage during their second winter with no concentrates fed at grass.

Heifers rotationally graze two-day paddocks (1.5ac) and receive minerals through the drinking water, with calves wormed twice during their first summer.

Sheep are also rotationally grazed with part of the flock now grazing a multi-species sward. Adult ewes lamb indoors during March with the year-olds lambing a month later.

Ulster Grassland Society president David Linton (right) with farm walk host James Henderson

Primera composite rams are used on the flock. Last year 1.71 lambs were weaned per ewe with 56kg concentrates fed per ewe.

The average days to slaughter for lambs is 140 days and considerable improvements in this figure have been achieved in recent years.

Reseeding takes place every 10 years with mainly diploid perennial rye grasses and some tetraploids and white clover used in both grazing and silage swards.

Silage is now based on a three-cut system – early May, late June and late August with big bales used to better utilise surplus grass and provide buffer feeding during periods of drought.

The Hendersons’ silage ground receives 2,500 gallons per acre for every cut along with 80units of N/ac for first cut and 60 units of N for subsequent cuts.

The Hendersons have also committed to carbon benchmarking. To date, this work has confirmed 21.9kg carbon output per kg of beef produce.

The equivalent deadweight carbon figure for lambs is and 26.4kg. No account taken of carbon sequestration levels within the farm business is taken account of in these calculations.