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BEEF2022 Open Day

Supporting Sustainable Beef Farming

BEEF2022 - Tuesday July 5th

The event focussed on the application of technologies to help beef farmers increase the profitability and environmental sustainability of their family farm businesses. Technologies in relation to:

  • grazing management
  • animal nutrition
  • beef genetics
  • reproductive management
  • animal health
  • farm planning

are essential to increase the competitiveness and sustainability of the Irish beef sector. 

A selection of the articles published to coincide with the event are below. 

Calf diarrhoea – prevention is better than cure

Diarrhoea is the most common cause of death for pre-ruminant calves those one month of age and younger. On-farm research by Teagasc Grange has shown an incident rate for diarrhoea of 8.7% in suckler calves and 25.5% in dairy calves. Calves are particularly vulnerable at this age since the components of the active immune system are under-developed and calves rely on the passive transfer of antibodies from the dam through colostrum.

Currently, the best way to manage scours in calves is to prevent it using systemic management practices, strict sanitation procedures and developing a comprehensive herd health plan.


  • Diarrhoea or scours is the most common disease in calves under one month of age.
  • Calves with diarrhoea are commonly infected with rotavirus and cryptosporidia, which cannot be treated with antibiotics.
  • A comprehensive herd health plan is necessary to prevent calf diarrhoea.
  • Optimized colostrum management supports calf gut health and immune function.
  • Biosecurity and sanitation procedures are of the utmost importance.
  • The “Holoruminant” EU-funded project is investigating the role of microbiomes in developing solutions to reduce early-life diseases such as diarrhoea.

Continue reading the full article

Calf housing design


There are five key requirements for a calf shed:

  • Good ventilation to ensure air is fresh and no draughts are created.
  • Adequate space: It is recommended to provide 2.0-2.3 m2 pen area per calf.
  • Dry/good drainage: Calves spend 80% of their time lying down so they need a dry bed.
  • Warmth: Calves perform best at 15-20oC; however, well-bedded calves are comfortable down to about 8°C.
  • Clean and cleanable: Floors and walls should be easily cleaned

Read more on calf housing design

Calving at two years of age: identifying and rearing suitable replacement heifer

The current national average age at first-calving in suckler-bred heifers is 32 months. Only 23% of heifers calf at 24 months of age. This compares to 74% of dairy-bred heifers calving for the first time at 24 months of age. There is huge potential for improvement in this important reproductive key performance indicator.

The top 10% of commercial suckler herds and research herds are consistently calving heifers at 24 months of age. Work from Teagasc Grange has highlighted that a heifer calving for the first time at 36 months of age:

  • consumes 65% more grass
  • 96% more silage
  • 33% more concentrates

than an equivalent heifer calving at 24 months of age. Calving at two years of age will increase farm productivity but careful planning and a high level of technical efficiency is required to ensure consistent succes


  • It is important that farmers consider their target market when selecting heifers and only produce from heifers and cows with genetics that will produce a suitable weanling or finishing animal.
  • Replacement heifer selection is based on; visual assessment for functional traits, adequate weight-for-age and a balanced “Eurostar” Replacement Index that complements the herd’s breeding goals.
  • Delaying first-calving from 24 to 36 months of age decreases net margin per hectare by 50%, which is mainly attributed to feeding an ‘unproductive’ heifer.
  • Pre-weaning growth rates of at least 1.2 kg/day should be targeted to increase the number of heifers reaching puberty before the breeding season.
  • Heifers should be 60% of their mature live weight at breeding and 80% of mature weight at calving.
  • Bulls with <8% beef heifer calving difficulty and 80% reliability should be used on heifers for first breeding.
  • Calving heifers in the first 21 days of the calving season increases their longevity and lifetime productivity in the herd.

Read more about calving at two years of age

Controlling parasitic infection and pneumonia in growing and finishing beef cattle

In suckler herds, calves generally remain with the cows at pasture until they are weaned between six and nine months old. In addition to removal from the cow, the weaning procedure may be compounded by other stressors occurring around the same time, e.g.

  • change of diet - grass and milk to conserved feed with or without concentrates
  • change of environment - outdoors to indoors
  • transport/marketing.

An optimal herd health programme should be designed to prevent major disease. It is important to consult with a veterinary practitioner prior to weaning and/or purchase of finishing cattle to discuss the prevalent diseases and associated risks specific to the farm. Respiratory disease (pneumonia) and internal parasites (stomach worms, lungworm (hoose) and fluke are among the main health concerns affecting weanlings and older cattle


  • An optimal herd health programme should be designed to prevent major disease and it is important to consult with a veterinary practitioner in this regard.
  • Parasite control programmes, encompassing internal parasites and ectoparasites should be developed.
  • Anthelmintics from different classes have different modes of action but within a class products share the same mode of action.
  • When resistance develops to one product within a class all the products in the same class are often affected.
  • Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is a multifactorial disease and involves a wide variety of infectious agents.
  • The key to preventing respiratory disease is to reduce stress and to vaccinate against viruses and bacteria that cause disease

Read about managing herd health 

Gaseous nitrogen losses in agricultural sources and mitigation

Agricultural emissions to air are divided into two main categories - greenhouse gases and air pollutants. Greenhouse gases have a negative impact on climate change and agriculture contributes 36% of our national emissions. The gases are:

  • methane (CH4)
  • nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • carbon dioxide (CO2).

In agriculture, the first two are the most important. Methane represents around two-thirds of all emissions and nitrous oxide the remaining third.

When it comes to emission sources, nearly 60% come from animals. Soils that were fertilised by manures or synthetic fertilizer or animals grazing pasture account for 30%. The remaining 10% comes mainly from management of animal manures like housing during indoor feeding periods and slurry storage.

The Climate Action and Low Carbon Amendment Act 2021 seeks to reduce Irish greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 51% by 2030 with agriculture set a reduction target of between 22% and 30%. Achieving these targets pose significant challenges for agriculture across the island of Ireland, especially in the context of sustained economic and GHG emissions growth since 2011.

Air pollutants

The other type of emissions are air pollutants like ammonia. Ammonia is a gaseous form of N which can significantly reduce the N available for grass growth when lost from N fertilizer and slurry. Ammonia negatively impacts on human and animal health, while also damaging ecosystems. Ireland has committed to reducing ammonia emissions, however, we have been exceeding our EU targets in recent years. In Ireland, agriculture is responsible for 99% of all ammonia emissions so any national reduction will have to come from agriculture, primarily from how we manage our N fertilizer and slurry. Ammonia comes mainly from management of animal manures (housing, slurry storage and land spreading) but also from grazing animals, and finally from spreading of synthetic fertilizer.


Nitrogen lost into the atmosphere causes environmental pollution and represents loss of valuable on-farm nutrients.

Ways to reduce these losses are:

  • Spread slurry using low emission spreading methods.
  • Switch to low-emission fertilizers such as protected urea.
  • Correct soil fertility and include clover in grassland swards.
  • Increase nitrogen-use efficiency and reduce fertilization accordingly.
  • Breed for more efficient animals.
  • Reduce the crude protein content of the animal diet to avoid excess nitrogen loss

Read more about mitigating gaseous nitrogen losses in agricultural sources

Distribution of time of calving in the suckler cow herd

Calving is a critical part of the reproductive lifecycle of the cow. It can be associated with high levels of calf morbidity and mortality, as well as leading to subsequent cow reproduction-related complications, due to calving difficulty (dystocia). It is also the time during which the cow-calf maternal bond is formed, and when the immune-compromised neonatal calf derives its passive immunity through ingestion of colostrum. In this regard time to first-suckling is crucial.

The implications associated with a difficult calving for the calf include a poorer maternal bond, delayed colostrum consumption and possible failure of passive transfer of immunity. According to DAFM, in 2021 1.84% of calves died from 0-6 weeks of age on suckler farms in Ireland.

Stockperson presence at calving time can reduce calf loss and reduce the dystocia-related stress on the cow and calf. Anecdotally, it is often assumed that animals have a preference to calve during quiet periods on the farm with no noise and in ‘darkness’ at night to reduce the ‘risk-of-predation’ when giving birth. Consequently, quantifying the hourly distribution of time of calving during the ‘24-hour day’ in suckler cows is of interest. There is a preference for cows calving during ‘normal’ working hours or during ‘daylight’ hours, when labour is more freely available, rather than during the ‘dark’ or ‘night’. Teagasc research indicates that livestock accounts for 65% of all on-farm injuries, and that 35% of fatal accidents are from attacks by ‘cow with calves’. Calving is an exceptionally busy and labour-intensive period on-farm, and working with calving cows, especially at ‘night’, can pose an increased safety risk to farmers.

Cow-calf maternal bond research

In suckler cow production systems, successful calving entails producing a healthy, viable calf without any detrimental effect on the cow. The importance of investigating the maternal bond formed with suckler cows and their offspring is important for the survival of the calf. Calves are born with an undeveloped immune system and rely on antibodies and other components in colostrum (first-milk) for protection from disease, as well as nutrition.

Research suggests calf vigour and calving ease play a crucial role in successful passive transfer for the beef calf. At Teagasc Grange, we are studying:

  • the development of the cow-calf bond
  • suckling behaviour
  • and calving times in the suckler cow herds

and evaluating the effect of dam breed type (early-and late-maturing beef crossbred and beef × dairy cows) and cow genetic merit (high and average Replacement Index). Calvings were recorded using CCTV footage. The time post-calving when certain behaviours occurred including when the:

  • cow approaches the calf
  • cow licks the calf
  • calf attempts standing
  • calf stands
  • calf attempts suckling
  • calf successfully suckles

were determined for analysis. Additional aims are to evaluate the method of colostrum intake (assisted v. unassisted suckling) based on the calf ‘suckle-reflex’ at 10-minutes post-birth. Colostrum samples were collected, prior to suckling, for immunoglobulin (Ig) concentration determination. A blood sample was obtained by jugular venipuncture from calves at 48-hours post-birth to determine calf immune status. After parturition animals remained in the calving pens for a minimum of 2 days with the calf having free access to the dam.

Noeleen Brereton, Bernadette Earley, Colin Byrne, Peter Doyle and Mark McGee

Teagasc, Grange Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Dunsany, Co. Meath


Effect of space allowance and floor type on the performance and welfare of cattle

Space allowance and floor type are identified as critical factors affecting the welfare of cattle housed indoors. A research study evaluated the effects on animal performance and welfare of housing finishing beef heifers at a range of space allowances on concrete slatted floors (CSF)

Increasing space allowance for finishing beef cattle above 3.0 m2 on concrete slatted floors (CSF) did not affect animal welfare.

  • A space allowance of 3.0 m2 is sufficient for finishing beef cattle on CSF in terms of performance.
  • When housed at the same space allowance, accommodating finishing beef heifers on straw as opposed to CSF improved daily live weight gain, but not carcass weight.
  • Behavioural results indicated that the provision of straw increased lying time.
  • It is necessary to account for the weight and potential growth rate of finishing cattle when deciding what space allowance they should receive.

It was concluded that 2.0 m2 per animal was an insufficient space allowance for finishing steers housed on CSF. There was no difference in average daily live weight gain (ADG) or carcass weight between steers accommodated at 2.5 and 3.0 m2 per animal. There was no difference in ADG or carcass weight between steers housed at 3.0 m2. 

High quality silage: a must for beef production systems

Grass silage typically makes up around one quarter to one third of total feed dry matter (DM) consumed on drystock farms. Compared to grazed grass it is quite expensive to produce (usually twice the cost per tonne DM), however when taken as part of an integrated grazing system it is good value compared to concentrates and alternative forages.

Recent experiences with national fodder shortages have underlined the value of having a good reserve of quality silage available on beef farms. Teagasc national fodder surveys in 2020-21 showed that while the majority of beef farms had adequate silage reserves (i.e. 15-20% relative to winter demand), a cohort of 10-12% of farms are consistently running a significant feed deficit of more than 20% of winter requirements. This is a high-risk strategy, especially during periods of fodder scarcity and high input prices. It is likely to be particularly expensive for these farms to bridge deficits with purchased forage and/or concentrates in the winter of 2022/23.

Early intervention to correct shortages is advised, starting with completing a winter feed budget. While most beef farms have tended to secure adequate supply of silage tonnage in recent years, average silage quality (as measured by dry matter digestibility, DMD) remains consistently poor on drystock farms at 65-67% DMD. The principal challenge for beef producers therefore is to balance the dual objectives of having adequate supply of silage, while meeting feed quality targets for good animal performance.

Defining targets for grass silage production

The three key elements to cost effective grass silage production are:

  1. High grass DM yields for first-cut and subsequent cuts, with high total annual grass yield (>14.0 tonnes DM/ha). Guideline yields are 4.8 t DM/ha and up to 6.2 t DM/ha for silage harvested in mid-May and early June, respectively.
  2. Appropriate feed quality for the category of stock to be fed. This is best measured as digestibility of the crop dry matter (DMD); protein content is also important and is positively associated with DMD. Silage quality is a function of growth stage at cutting (leafy swards have higher DMD than stemmy swards).
  3. Clean, stable feed with good intake potential. This is achieved through good fermentation and can be assessed from silage pH (3.9 to 4.2 for un-wilted crops), ammonia (target less than 9%), and lactic acid (target over 8%) content. High DMD (leafy) swards can be well-preserved with good management.

Read more about the importance of and making high quality silage

Red Clover

Red clover in a mixture with perennial ryegrass and white clover can produce very high yields of multi-cut silage without artificial nitrogen (N) fertilizer. Red clover has enormous capacity to ‘fix’ atmospheric N into plant-available N in the soil supplying the equivalent of around 300 kg per ha per year. High N fertilizer prices is stimulating an interest in using red clover for multi-cut silage, particularly on out-blocks of land. Very high yields are possible. Annual yields of 15 tonne (t) DM per ha have been recorded at Teagasc Grange and Solohead under zero-N fertilizer input.

It is a relatively short-term ley maintaining high levels of production typically for three-to-six years. The red clover tends to die out of the sward over time. The high costs of reseeding and risks associated with reseeding explains why it has not been widely used and there is relatively little experience of it on Irish farms. Red clover is typically grown on mixed arable and livestock farms in the UK and Denmark where it is a fertility-building part of an arable rotation, while also producing cheap feed for livestock. Lucerne/alfalfa fills a similar role in regions with warmer and drier conditions during the summer. Red clover is more productive in regions with damper and temperate climates and is highly-productive under Irish conditions.

Environmental benefits

Red clover swards under multi-cut silage have low environmental footprints compared with alternatives. Greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions are low due to zero input of N fertilizer. Although red clover can fix huge amounts of N (equivalent to 300 kg/ha) this N is almost entirely taken up by the crop, is carried to the silage pit and ultimately ends up in the slurry tank. Recycling of this slurry back to the red clover swards using low emissions application techniques results in low nitrate losses to water. Red clover is potentially useful where N fertilizer is constrained by environmental or financial considerations. Longevity is key to competitiveness and time will tell how well red clover swards persist on commercial farms.


  • High yields of multi-cut silage are possible from red clover swards without input of artificial nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Red clover is a relatively short-term ley maintaining high levels of production for three-to-six years.
  • Red clover has poor ensiling characteristics, with much lower water-soluble carbohydrate (sugars) and somewhat higher buffering capacity than perennial ryegrass.
  • These ensiling limitations can be overcome by a 48-hour wilt or by using a suitable preservative to produce silages with high intake characteristics.

Read more about Red Clover 

Strategies to reduce methane emissions from Irish beef production

Plant matter consumed by ruminant livestock is digested by members of a microbial ecosystem residing in the rumen (forestomach). One group of rumen microbes, known as methanogens, produces methane, a wasteful end product of ruminal feed digestion. This accounts for nearly 60% of Irish agricultural related greenhouse gas (GHG). Methane is a GHG that is 28 times more potent to the environment than carbon dioxide.

Voluntary feed intake is the largest contributor to the quantity of methane emitted by an animal. Simply put, as an animal’s level of feed intake increases, more feed is fermented in the rumen. This both benefits the supply of energy and protein to the animal, but also elevates the supply of substrates to methanogens (mainly hydrogen and carbon dioxide), leading to an increased synthesis of methane in the rumen. Indeed, a recently-completed Teagasc project, RumenPredict, established that for an indoor finishing ration, beef cattle produce, on average, 230 g of methane per day equivalent to 22 g of methane for every kg of dry matter intake.

Mitigation Strategies

  • Reducing age of slaughter
  • Pasture management
  • Dietary supplementation
  • Breeding


  • Methane is produced during the digestion of feed in the forestomach of ruminant livestock.
  • Intensively-finished beef cattle offered a high-concentrate on average produce approximately 230 g of methane per day, equivalent to 22 g of methane for every kg of dry matter consumed.
  • A suite of anti-methanogenic additives have been identified using an in vitro rumen simulation technique system. The most promising additives are now being assessed in sheep and beef cattle for their in vivo anti-methanogenic potential and effects on animal production.
  • Low residual methane emissions (RME) beef cattle produce 30% less methane but maintain the same level of feed efficiency and carcass output as high RME animals.
  • Achieving methane emissions reduction targets for ruminants will require a combination of strategies focused on suppressing methane output.

Read more about Strategies to reduce methane emissions from Irish beef production 

Teagasc DairyBeef 500 Campaign


Since 2008, the number of suckler cows has reduced by approximately 285,000, while the number of dairy cows has increased by 481,000. This change in the national herd has resulted in an increased number of beef cattle slaughtered being of dairy origin. Dairy-bred cattle accounted for 57% of the national kill in 2020, compared to 47% in 2010. Current trends in both dairy and suckler cow numbers indicate further growth in dairy-beef numbers. In 2019, 47% of dairy cows were bred to dairy sires while the remaining 53% were bred to beef sires. Of the beef sires used, 78% were either Aberdeen Angus or Hereford (45% Aberdeen Angus and 33% Hereford), with the remaining 22% being mostly continental beef breeds.

Of the approximately one million Irish dairy calves available for beef production annually, 350,000 are retained on dairy farms where they are finished or sold as weanlings/stores. A further 350,000 calves are moved/sold to beef farms where they are artificially-reared. Live export, mortality and early slaughter accounts for the remaining 300,000 calves. Over the period, 2015 to 2019, the ICBF identified that there was on average 10,000 beef farmers purchasing dairy-beef calves annually, rearing on average 37 dairy-beef calves per farm. One of the big issues over this period was the high attrition rate of farms rearing dairy-beef calves; only 39% of those who reared dairy-beef calves in 2015 were still doing so in 2019. Typically, 23% of farmers involved in dairy-beef production exited the system in any one year over that period.

DairyBeef 500 Campaign

In response to the changes in both dairy and beef systems, Teagasc have developed a new initiative which focuses on dairy-beef production. The DairyBeef 500 Campaign will incorporate a number of existing dairy-beef projects, including:

  • Green Acres Dairy Calf-to-Beef Programme
  • male dairy calf contract-rearing
  • dairy calf-to-beef system evaluation study
  • the evaluation of a range of beef sires used on the dairy herd.

Additionally, the initiative will collaborate with existing Teagasc programmes, which will include the new Teagasc Signpost Farm Programme and the Grass10 Campaign.

The DairyBeef 500 Campaign has set a target of €500 net profit per ha (excluding own labour and land charge). It is envisaged that the programme will consist of beef farmers operating a wide range of production systems of varying intensities. On ‘intensive’ farms, the objective will be to grow and harvest as much grass as possible, supporting high carcass output per hectare. On more ‘extensive’ farms, there will be a greater emphasis on maximising carcass output per head and on the provision of environmental ecosystem services with lower carcass output per hectare. The optimum mix will depend on the individual farmer’s circumstances and priorities. 

Read more about the Teagasc DairyBeef campaign

The cost of producing home-grown feeds on Irish farms 

Unprecedented increases in prices of fertilizer, fuel and feed on global and Irish markets in 2022 has large consequences for the cost of beef production on Irish farms. The “Teagasc Grange Feed Model” was used to determine the cost of producing five of the most commonly grown feed crops in Ireland in March 2022 versus September 2021. 

  • Analysis of five commonly grown feeds on Irish beef farms has shown that the rise in input prices has led to an increase in feed costs between 22% and 33% in 2022 when compared to 2021.
  • Growing and efficiently utilising high-quality home-produced feed, rather than purchasing concentrates, which are also increasing in cost, remains the most cost-effective option for feeding livestock.
  • Grazed grass is the lowest cost high-quality feed source available, with clover inclusion in swards providing further opportunities to reduce costs.
  • With rising supplementary feed costs, it is vital that farms produce sufficient winter feed of appropriate quality.
  • Targeting high grass utilisation on grassland farms needs to be a key objective

The cost of all feeds have increased substantially. Home-produced feeds, and grazed grass in particular, remain our cheapest feed resource, with grass-clover pastures being particularly cost-effective. Following grazed grass, the costs of grass silage and fodder beet are relatively similar when expressed on a per tonne basis. Fodder beet has somewhat lower production costs compared to grass silage when expressed on a per unit energy utilised basis (although these crops have a greater demand for protein and mineral supplementation, which were not included in this analysis, when compared to grass crops). Purchased concentrates such as rolled barley remains an expensive feed resource, costing about five times the price of grazed grass (excluding land charge) on a per tonne DM basis.

Read the detail on the cost of producing home-grown feeds on Irish farms  

The Future Beef Programme

Future Beef is Teagasc’s new suckler beef demonstration farm programme that comes under the umbrella of the Signpost Programme. It comprises of a network of 24 demonstration farms - 22 commercial family-run farms, the Newford Farm in Athenry and the Kepak Feedlot in Caulstown, Co. Meath. The farms, positioned across Ireland supported by three experienced advisors. Each farm is representative of their region in:

  • farm size
  • soil type
  • production system
  • stock numbers etc.

Farm size ranges from 13 hectares to 114 hectares, and the herd size ranges from 12 to 87 suckler cows. The production systems vary between farms and include;

  • calf-to-weanling/store
  • calf-to-steer/heifer beef
  • calf-to-bull (under-16 months of age)/heifer beef
  • four are also buying in dairy-bred calves.

Mixed beef and sheep farms are also featured with flock sizes ranging from 50 to 250 ewes, along with two organic farms.

Key objectives:

  • Create more sustainable and profitable farms.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) and ammonia emissions.
  • Improve water quality.
  • Improve biodiversity.

To achieve these objectives, the main focus areas are:

  • Breeding
  • Grassland management
  • Health
  • Financial
  • Monitoring

Future Beef farmers will increase efficiencies and adopt technologies, new and old, to make beef farming more profitable, while also making it more environmentally and socially sustainable.

Through farm walks, discussion group visits, press articles, regular updates on the website and social media, the Future Beef programme will show these technologies working on the demonstration farms.

Read more about The Future Beef Programme

 Anaerobic Digestion Plant - Teagasc Grange

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a multi-step process whereby organic waste and residues are converted into biogas by a group of microorganisms in an anaerobic environment. While biogas could be used as any of the three energy vectors, in Ireland it would be most useful if used for renewable heat or transport. Biogas refers to the gas prior to upgrading, which contains approximately 55% methane (CH4), while biomethane refers to the upgraded gas, containing approximately 97% CH4. Anaerobic digestion plants can be fed a wide range of organic feedstocks. There are many suitable feedstocks for biogas production from the agricultural sector, including crops such as maize specifically cultivated for biogas production, animal slurry and manures, as well as waste and by-products from agro-industries.

Teagasc Grange is the site of a biogas plant which is currently under construction and due to be commissioned in 2022. When fully-operational, expected nominal gas production will be 70 m3/hour. The bio-methane produced will be pressurised for transport by road tanker to the national gas grid at the injection point in Nurney, Co. Kildare. Alternatively, the bio-methane can be used for natural gas powered trucks with refuelling on site. In addition, the option of using a natural gas tractor on the research farm at Grange will be explored.


  • The European Commission recently launched the REPowerEU plan which aims to diversify gas supplies, speed up the deployment of renewable gases and replace gas in heating and power generation.
  • Biogas and biomethane are renewable energy sources which can be used in any of the three energy vectors, electricity, transport and heat.
  • In Ireland, the anaerobic digestion (AD) sector is relatively underdeveloped despite a lot of studies indicating its potential due to the abundance of grassland and cattle slurry, which can used to provide feedstock for AD.
  • Teagasc Grange is the site for a pilot-scale AD plant which is currently under construction and due to be commissioned in 2022.
  • Research at Teagasc Grange is exploring the environmental and economic sustainability of biomethane from a range of grass silages derived from swards differing in species composition and in the rates of nitrogen fertiliser received.
  • This research highlights that the fertiliser inputs and sward type used in silage production are key determinants in the sustainability of biogas production

Read more about the Anaerobic Digestion Plant

The influence of on-farm factors on the eating quality of beef

As more than 85% of Irish beef is exported there are a myriad of markets and consumers whose preferences must be satisfied to ensure repeat purchase. Each consumer group may have a different definition and expectation of beef meat quality. Within the broad definition of beef meat quality, which includes safety, appearance, shelf-life and nutritional composition, the satisfaction which consumers derive from eating beef is particularly important. 

An objective of the Teagasc beef quality research programme is to understand how production factors affect beef eating quality, and thereby provide beef farmers with the information to allow them to produce beef that is suitable for specific markets. Eating quality can be affected by many factors both inside and outside the farm gate. This paper considers “on-farm” influences on eating quality with a focus on the type of animal and ration composition, while recognising that both factors frequently interact within a beef production system.

The expectations of beef meat consumers must be satisfied to ensure continued purchase of the product, and to sustain the industry. This requires clear market signals on the requirements and/or preferences of each consumer group in the production/supply chain and information on the farm practises required to meet those preferences. Information is now available on the influences of several farm factors on the eating quality of beef. This information will assist farmers and processors to more consistently meet consumer expectations of the beef eating experience.


  • Eating quality (particularly tenderness and flavour) has a critical influence on the decision of the consumer to purchase beef again.
  • When slaughtered at a similar fatness, there is little difference between beef breeds in tenderness or overall consumer acceptability of meat.
  • On current evidence, increasing age at slaughter (up to 22 months) does not negatively influence the tenderness of suckler or dairy bull beef.
  • Within a defined production system, finishing cattle at grass rather than on concentrates has only a minor effect on beef eating quality.
  • Producers can choose the most cost-effective ingredients for cattle rations without a commercially-important effect on beef eating quality

Read more about Influence of on-farm factors on eating quality