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The story so far for the Tipperary Calf to Beef Demo Farm

The story so far for the Tipperary Calf to Beef Demo Farm

The Tipperary Calf to Beef Demonstration Farm – trading as Ballyvadin Beef Farm Ltd. – was established by Teagasc, in conjunction with Dawn Meats and Shinagh Estates Ltd., to demonstrate the best technologies for profitable and sustainable production of beef calves from the dairy herd.

After signing a 15-year lease on the 112ha farm in April 2022, it has been developed to demonstrate the use of excellent dairy-beef genetics and grassland management.

Chloe Millar, Teagasc Technician to the farm, joined Teagasc Dairy Specialist James Dunne on a recent Let’s Talk Dairy webinar, where she provided a background to the farm and outlined the breeding and calf sourcing policy being implemented.

The system

The aim is purchase 300 calves annually, Chloe explained, with these animals carried to beef from 18 months of age – targeting slaughter before housing in the second winter. Although some animals – mainly steers – will be carried over the winter, the aim is to have all animals sold by 24 months of age. An average carcass weight of 270-280kg is targeted for heifers, 310-320kg average carcass weights are targeted for steers.

Along with maximising the number of animals marketed before the need to house arises in the second winter – thus maximising the quantity of beef produced from grazed grass - one of the farm’s primary aims is to demonstrate the role excellent dairy-beef genetics play in the performance of a calf to beef system.

All calves purchased by the farm originate from four source herds. These herds have worked with Teagasc genetic researcher Alan Twomey to develop breeding programmes that meet both dairy and beef farmer needs.

Outlining the criteria that the source dairy farmers must follow, Chloe said that the farmers have to use the bulls selected by Teagasc. A minimum of three sire breeds are required (excluding Angus and Hereford). Calves must also meet a minimum weight target of 30kg before being moved from the farm or birth to the demonstration farm, at two weeks of age. Along with this, calves must be free from signs of ill-health and have received an intranasal vaccine covering the pneumonia strain Pi3 five days before departure.

On this Chloe said: “It does work. We’ve had no cases of pneumonia, we’ve had no signs of ill health and the calves now that are out at grass are thriving and are doing really well.”

Bull selection

The calves purchased this spring were as a result of the breeding policy implemented by Teagasc’s Alan Twomey and the source dairy farmers, Chloe outlined. And after examining the traits of each individual dairy herd, an appropriate bull team was selected.

Each farmer was presented with four separate bull teams specific to their farm – an easy-calving bull team, bulls for use later in the season (short gestation), bulls for use earlier in the season (longer gestation) and a group of high merit beef sires for use in the latter stages of the season.

This has resulted in the 2023-calf crop on the demonstration farm consisting of a mixture of Angus, Aubrac, Saler, Limousin and Parthenaise calves. The use of such genetics, Chloe explained, will hopefully point the way to alternative breed/breeds for use on dairy herds to improve the standard of beef animal produced.

The Commercial Beef Value (CBV) is being used extensively on the demonstration farm also and it plays a crucial role in terms of calf pricing. Source farmers who produce calves with higher CBV values are rewarded at the time of purchase. A base price, using national data for calves sold, was established.

On this Chloe said: “We took an average of calves that went through the marts in doubles or triples – groups of calves because that’s how we are buying them - bulls that went through for certain ages and heifers that went through and created a base.

“We gave a base price of €163 for bulls and €127 for the heifer. The base for CBV is €80, so if you can produce an animal that has a €100 CBV value, we will give you €20 extra

“Our average CBV is €115 for this year’s calves that we have brought in purely from the genetics that Alan selected to get us to that level. The national average is €65,” she explained.

Once the calf rearing period has finished, Chloe explained that the farm will be open to discussion groups to see the progress that has been made to date. Open days will be planned in the future to disseminate the research findings from the demonstration farm.

A recording of the webinar is available below, where Chloe also provides an update on the calf rearing, feeding and weaning policy.

This webinar is also available in podcast format below:

The Tipperary Calf to Beef Demonstration Farm forms on of the key pillars of Teagasc's DairyBeef 500 Campaign. More information on the DairyBeef 500 Campaign is available here. Let's Talk Dairy is a weekly webinar series held every Thursday morning, offering timely, relevant and practical advice to allow you make better management decisions on your dairy farm. Watch back previous webinars or register for future webinars here.