By Debbie James

A Welsh suckler beef herd is achieving carbon emissions that are 17 per cent 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, 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 Williamses 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 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, a Farming Connect focus farm, 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.

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

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

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

Ten per cent 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.

The Williamses 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 40kg N 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.