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Teagasc Green Acres Virtual Farm Walk with Jarlath and Austin Ruane


On Thursday 13th May, Jarlath and Austin Ruane, farmer participants of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme hosted a virtual event from their farm in Claremorris, Co. Mayo through the use of social media and video. You can watch back the footage here to gain an insight into their farm

The second phase of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme was launched in the spring of 2019 and since then Jarlath Ruane along with our 11 other participating farmers have been working closely with our programme advisors Alan DillonJames Fitzgerald and Seán Cummins on implementing farm plans aimed at achieving a net margin of €500/ha before farm subsidies are taken into account.

Meet Jarlath Ruane

Host farmer Jarlath Ruane runs a calf to beef and lowland sheep system alongside his father Austin. As both men are employed full time locally, the farm is run part time. Jarlath runs through the day to day activities that take place on the farm, starting off with the early morning tasks like checking the health status of the calves in the pens, replenishing the milk replacer and water, as well as making sure there is sufficient enough and dry bedding.

As well as milk replacer, the calves also get meal, an 18% crude protein nut where they get as much as they can eat while they're on replacer. The levels of meal will be brought down when they get out to grass. Calves are also fed fresh straw to get the rumen fully developed before they get out to grass and are also fed straw for the first while at grass.

The calves that are bought in on the farm are holstein friesian, angus and limousin calves. The heaviest of them go on to be killed at 20-21 months of age and the rest go on to be killed at 28-30 months of age at grass. All calves that are bought in are bull calves. On arrival the calves get all their necessary vaccinations and doses. When the calves are weaned they move outside where a shelter is provided for when it is raining, they are allocated fresh grass every two days and they are fed a kilo of meal every morning and evening. They are also getting fresh straw.

Sheep are grazing on the farm after the calves in order to clean out the paddocks so that the calves don't have to graze down completely. The sheep have lambed in mid-February and the lambs are being creep fed. The lambs will be starting to be slaughtered from May through to August and replacement are bought in just to keep the sheep side of things as simple as possible.

Jarath goes through a paddock where there are 60 cattle, 33 of them are 2 year olds. There's a mix of cattle, including jersey cross calves which are sourced off local farmers. The target is to be killed out in July/August/September time at around 300 kgs. The younger cattle will be targeted on a 21-22 month finish inside and will be expecting a 315 kg carcass weight at finish. 30 of the lighter yearlings will be killed at 30 months of age.

The 1st cut silage paddock was grazed off in early March with the sheep and lambs. It was closed up at the start of April where it got fertiliser. There isn't a great crop on it at the moment where the lack of growth has affected it. Hopefully they'll be able to take it out at the end of May and aim for a high quality silage and go back in for a second cut of silage. Yield isn't a major concern on the farm as they will be able to take bales out as the growth improves on the farm. It's simple and suits the lifestyle as both Jarlath and Austin work full time off farm so time is limited working on the farm. The Ruanes are happy with the system that they're running and are positive for the future.

Mixed Grazing System

Austin and Jarlath Ruane have a 55 ewe flock consisting of texel and suffolk cross ewes which lamb in mid February. It is a very simple system with all lambs finished off grass and all replacements bought in. In this short clip Amy Connolly, Teagasc Drystock Advisor based in Claremorris, explains that there are many advantages to having a mixed grazing system.

  • The first advantage is sales at different times of the year. The lambs are sold from May through to August with bullocks sold June, July November and December. This also helps with cashflow on the farm.
  • The second advantage of a mixed grazing system is that it helps to extend the grazing season. The ewes graze the silage ground in the spring time of the year after they have lambed and is closed off in early April for silage. In the back end of the year the ewes help to graze out all of the grazing ground which leaves fresh grass grown in the spring for the cattle. This helps to improve the environmental sustainability of the farm by increasing the grazing season and also increases profits on the farm.
  • The third advantage of a mixed grazing systems is that the ewes graze behind the calves which helps to graze out the paddocks down to 4cm and leaves them ready for the next rotation.
  • The fourth advantage of a mixed grazing system is that it reduces the worm burden for both cattle and sheep on the farm because they are both grazing intermittently. This also reduces the use of anthelmintics on the farm and increases the thrive of both cattle and sheep.
  • The fifth advantage of a mixed grazing system is that there's very little extra infrastructure needed on the farm. They make great use of temporary fencing which allows them to graze out paddocks after the cattle. They have dual purpose sheds which they use to lamb the ewes in February which is then used to rear calves when they buy them in March.
  • The sixth advantage of a mixed grazing system is that there are very little weeds in the swards. This is due to the swards being ticker from the sheep grazing it which reduces the risk of weeds coming up through the grassland sward.

Put simply the sheep enterprise on the farm allows for more grazed grass to be utilised which is turned into a salable product such as finished lambs. This increases the overall output of Ruane's farm and profit of the farm as a whole.

Silage Quality

Excellent quality silage is required on calf to beef farms and a DMD target of at least 72 is needed. Seán Cummins, Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme Advisor explains that where silage quality falls below this level, additional concentrates supplementation is going to be required over the winter months to ensure our animals achieve their target of daily weight gains. We're aiming for a target of 0.6 kg/day for our steer and heifer weanlings and 0.9 kg/day for our finishing heifers and over 1kg a day for our steers.

The Ruanes are doing an excellent job in terms of silage quality. Last year 1st cut silage on the farm was harvested on the 14th of May and resulted in a crop with a DMD of 76.7. The second cut crops were harvested 6 weeks later after being grown with 80 units of artificial N and slurry which provided P & K to the crop. A key focus of the Teagasc Green Acres programme is improving efficiency at farm level and one of the areas we've been looking at is the management of animals over the winter months. We've seen across the 12 farms that silage quality has improved from 69.5 DMD up to 73 DMD between 2019 and 2020. What that means at farm level is that we can reduce the quantity of concentrates fed over the winter period without having a negative impact on animal performance. In an era when we're focusing on environmental consciousness and is becoming the here and now we have to really focus on achieving the target weight gains on farm level. Where these targets are not met we're going to see an older age of slaughter or a lighter carcass weight and both of these are going to have negative impacts on the carbon emissions from our beef industry.

Austin Callaghan, Drystock Advisor highlights the importance of making quality silage for all groups of livestock. It is important that cattle perform over the winter and in that situation we need to make silage in the 70+ DMD. It is even more important in the West of Ireland as cattle are housed for approximately 5 months. If the cattle aren't performing over that period it's a huge disadvantage for the farmer and cattle will not leave money in that situation. So how do you go about making this high quality silage? First of all we need to have the sward grazed out well, either at the previous back end or graze it in late March down to 4cm. If slurry is available, apply up to a max. of 3000 gallons per acre. Depending on the weather it will provide 5-10 units of Nitrogen per 1000 gallons. After slurry we apply fertilister, aiming to get up to 100 units of Nitrogen/acre. From our bag of fertiliser we will be applying 80-100 units of chemical nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as your soil indexes indicate. Silage ground is closed on the 1st week of April and the silage should be ready for cutting in the region of the 20th May up until the 1st week of June, aiming for 70 DMD of silage. Once you have your silage cut, you will look at the number of bales that you have, the number of cattle that you're going to keep over the winter, do a calculation of the silage requirement and close your second cut the number acres you require to make up the balance and produce enough silage for the 5 months of winter.

Calf Genetics & Rearing

The calf rearing phase is the most resource intensive within dairy beef production systems.

Nicky Byrne, Teagasc Calf-to-Beef Researcher explains that it is essential that we select calves with a high genetic potential for beef production, that offer high weight for age at time of purchase and that are healthy coming from herds that are implementing an optimum vaccination and colostrum management protocol. When calves are purchased in on farm they should receive electrolytes for their first feed and 24 hours after arrival and when they're settled into their new surroundings, calves should receive their initial vaccination to boost their immunity against bovine respiratory disease.

The objective of the calf rearing phase is to maintain a healthy calf while striking a balance between animal performance, as well as production costs. Over the calf rearing phase, every calf should be achieving 0.7 kilo/day over the artificial calf rearing period. Typically in dairy beef systems calves are purchased on farm at 3 weeks of age and at this time point they should weigh between 50-55 kilos. Calves artificially reared in addition to their milk diet should be offered ad-lib concentrates as well as a high quality roughage source, in many cases that is straw, as well as fresh water on a daily basis.

The intake of solid feed in a calves diet is necessary to support a successful transition phase.

The transition phase represents the period when a calf moves from pre-ruminant to ruminant with the rumen taking over the main responsibility of feed digestion. The level of concentrate that the calf consumes will largely dictate the success of this period. The milk feeding strategy employed will largely dictate the level of concentrate intake. A successful transition phase minimises stress caused during the weaning process and will allow calves to fully benefit from grazed grass throughout the first grazing season. Calves should be weaned when they meet a range of selection criteria. They should be greater than 10 weeks of age, weighing greater than 85-90 kilos liveweight and they should be consuming in excess of 1 kilo of concentrate for more than 3 consecutive days. In terms of purchasing calves when we look across the Green Acres farms, purchase prices have increased in 2021.

Alan Dillon, Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme Manager outlines how the cost of holstein friesian calves have increased around €11 per head, whereas early maturing breeds, like angus and hereford have increased around €50 per head. When we look at what farmers are going to buy, there has to be a cross off between value and quality. While quality is always important it always comes at a price. The cost of production typically across a dairy calf to beef system would equate to around €1,000 between fixed and variable costs for a 2 year old steer production system. While higher stocking rates in excess of 2 livestock units per Ha combined with good levels of efficiency will lead to higher levels of profitability on all these Green Acres farms, in excess of probably €400/€500 per Ha net, what has to be taken into account also is effect on the environment and the level of carbon emissions that come from carrying higher stocking rates on these farms.

Further information on the Teagasc Green Acres Farms can be found here on Green Acres Calf to Beef