‘If you don’t measure you will not improve’.
By Gerard Cregg,
Teagasc Beef Adviser, Castlerea.
Having attended a discussion group meeting last night in the Enterprise Centre in Boyle with a group of young dry stock farmers one thing stands out. It never ceases to surprise me at the high level of interest and energy in the room from young farmers to develop and improve their own farms. Over the last year this group of young people have met and discussed a range of topics to help facilitate them to improve the returns on their farming enterprise.
Given the prolonged wet spell we endured over the past four months the meeting initially focused on ensuring they calculated their winter fodder budget and solving problems around potential scarcity of silage next spring. The key factor in deciding how much silage the group required depended on silage quality. Only two out of the eighteen members had bothered to test their silage. When you move away from the debate the real lessons learned were if you don’t measure you cannot improve.
With a silage sample result you could actually;
- Determine how much you needed to feed
- Select a ration that had a protein level to match your silage protein
- More importantly recognise how good you are at making silage
From this simple measurement you now have a target for improving the grass quality and consequently the silage quality you make next summer. Over the years the farmers that measured silage quality improved both their grassland management and the quality of their silage dramatically. Measuring focuses the mind and allows you to set goals. In farming we must set goals but we need to know where the baseline is!
The next focus of our discussion was weanling performance over the winter. Again to establish where we are currently, eight group members agreed to weigh cattle three times over the winter period, take dung samples to measure levels of parasites in those cattle, estimate resistance to wormers, and record meal feeding levels and liveweight gain. By next March everyone will have learned a lot from this recording and guaranteed there will be a huge increase on liveweight gain over the winter on these farms in the next three years if this continues.
Finally we spent one hour identifying where we are losing money on cattle breeding. Due to the work carried out by ICBF, we had all the group members’ cattle breeding performance for the year. (We removed names and herd numbers to save embarrassment for the members underperforming). However, when you are faced with the reality of how your herd performed compared to your buddy sitting beside or across the room from you the green monster inside wakes up!
By focusing on how improving two parameters in this area ‘calving intervals’ and ‘calf/cow/year’, the group average could put an extra €150/week in their pocket compared to the farmer who already had that money, sitting beside them or across the room (they were the ones with the content smile)! Everyone knew at the end of the meeting that a calving interval of 365 days and a calf/cow/year of 0.95 would mean they could be as content as some of the top performing group members.
If we want to make an extra few pound on our own farms well then start measuring and set goals to improve the baseline. Pick a range of measurements you will target for 2018, write them down and set a date in March and July for when you will look at your progress, you cannot beat thrashing this out with other like-minded farmers in a discussion group at the end of the year.
Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. They have offices based in Roscommon Town (Tel: 090 6626166), Castlerea (Tel: 094 9620160) and Longford Town (Tel: 043 3341021) #TeagascRNLD