A Look Inside The Zero-Grazing Method: How One Northern Ireland Farmer Maintains Profitability Through Sustainability

Jan 22

Interview With George Bingham

Alltech spoke with Northern Ireland dairy farmer George Bingham about zero-grazing and sustainability.

George Bingham’s family business of raising dairy cattle, like many, once depended on the vegetation in the wide open spaces of green pastures in Northern Ireland to maintain profitability. But when The Nitrates Action Programme was implemented in 2007, regulations were placed on livestock farmers that limited their use of pastures for roughly five months (from October to February) in an effort to keep local water systems clean from the nitrates and phosphorus that can leach from the manure of pasture-grazed cows. The regulations forced dairy farmers like Bingham to adopt a new method for maintaining profitability. In the video, Bingham outlines how his business has adjusted.

Bingham and his family adapted to the new regulations by building a housing and feedlot facility to accommodate his 550 dairy cows during those winter months. The brand-new facility, which Bingham says he’s “very pleased with,” allows for the efficient integration of space, shelter, a feed/water system and waste management all in one place. “It is the first year we have done this [implemented the zero-grazing method], and it has helped reduce the concentrate levels and save a lot of money,” says Bingham.

Though the zero-grazing method requires a lot of manpower to manually cut the grass and bring it to the cows, when done correctly, it can allow for the utilization of once inaccessible land, reduce damage to soils, extend the grazing season and increase grass intake, resulting in higher milk production. As Bingham mentioned, he is able to use less concentrate in feed, arguably due to the increase of quality grass in the forage, which can be a huge money saver and catalyst toward higher profits.

According to an article in Farmers Weekly called “Zero Grazing Can Add Value,” additional benefits of a zero-grazing method include:

  • The ability to control the nutritional value of forage
  • The ability to control how much forage cows are eating
  • Access to fresh grass during seasons of heavy rainfall

The zero-grazing method requires farmers to install an effective and clean waste management system that will meet the sanitary requirements outlined by The Nitrates Action Programme, and ensure proper storage of slurry until the spring and summer months when animals can return to pasture. “We store the slurry in deep tanks under the cows and then we scrape the slats three times per day [sometimes more],” says Bingham. “We have to store all that manure and then spread that when the weather is appropriate.”

Read more stories about innovative farmers at http://www.alltech.com/farmer-stories.

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