What are the Future Beef Farmers doing on their farms this month?
The Future Beef Programme is a network of 22 demonstration farms mainly operating suckler beef systems, some with lowland sheep enterprises and two organic farms. For the month of March each farm is completing a number of different tasks on their farm. Aisling Molloy, Future Beef Advisor has more
The aim of the programme is to demonstrate to beef farmers how they can produce a quality product as efficiently as possible to make beef farming more profitable, while also making it more environmentally and socially sustainable.
Monitoring animal performance
Ken Gill runs an organic autumn calving suckler to beef herd with 70 cows in Clonbullogue, Co. Offaly. This month Ken weighed all of his cows, calves and yearlings to determine their weight gain over winter and to qualify them for the BEEP(S) scheme.
The average cow weight was 630 kg. The 2021 born heifers (34) averaged 245 kg, having gained 0.95 kg/day since birth. The bullocks (38) averaged 262 kg, having gained 1.05 kg/day since birth. The 2020 born heifers (24) averaged 506 kg, having gained 0.42 kg/day over the housing period. The bullocks (34) averaged 488 kg, having gained 0.43 kg/day over the winter. The target for these stock is 0.6 kg/day over winter. However as Ken is an organic farmer he tries to feed as little ration as possible. The yearlings started out on a diet of red clover silage (70.2% DMD, 12.9% CP) and 1 kg of oats, but later changed to a higher DMD grass silage (71.1% DMD, 13.9% CP) with 1 kg of oats which may explain the difference in expected performance.
Ken will weigh the calves and yearlings again in the summer to determine what their weight gain from grass will be. He plans to slaughter the 2020 born bullocks and heifers that aren’t being kept for breeding off grass in the autumn.
See Ken Gill’s profile at - Future Beef programme farmer: Ken Gill
Further Information: BEEP S - Time to Apply
Following a nutrient management plan
Ruairi Cummins is operating a 44 cow spring calving suckler to store/beef system in Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny. Soil samples were taken on Ruairi’s farm and these results have been used to develop a sustainable fertiliser plan. They showed that 47% of the farm has a pH less than the optimum of 6.2. This will require 64 tonnes of lime to rectify over the coming years, but it will generate an excellent return on investment of 7:1. Slurry/unprotected urea can be spread 10 days before lime, but should not be spread for 3-6 months after lime. Similarly silage should not be cut for 3-6 months after spreading lime as it may affect silage preservation.
The phosphorus levels on Ruairi’s farm are quite good, with 76% in the target index of 3 or 4. This is unsurprising as he generally spreads compound fertilisers on the farm. Similarly, 65% of the farm is in index 3 or 4 for potassium.
All of the slurry on the farm will be targeted to silage ground to help replace the nutrient offtakes. 18-6-12 is recommended for grazing ground and protected urea is the most environmentally friendly and economical option for straight nitrogen on the farm. Muriate of potash (50% potassium) can also be spread to help build potassium indexes. Ruairi has fertiliser ordered and it awaiting delivery.
See Ruairi Cummins profile - Future Beef programme farmer: Ruairi Cummins
Analysing financial performance for 2021
Proinnsias Creedon is farming a dairy calf/store to beef system near Macroom in Co. Cork. Proinnsias completed his profit monitor for 2021 to analyse the farm income, expenses and overall performance.
As with most farms the biggest expenses were feed costs (€540/ha), fertiliser (€170/ha) and contractor services (€240/ha). As the farm system involves buying in calves which are brought to finish, along with buying in cattle for summer grazing and finishing the price paid for stock this year will be very important trying to reduce these. The ration costs could be reduced by not feeding meal to calves during May, June and July. However grass quality will have to excellent for them to perform just as well so grass management will be important. Proinnsias is already making excellent quality silage (over 70% DMD) which reduces the amount of ration that has to be fed over winter so this should be continued. As Proinnsias is trying to build the soil indexes on the farm, there will be limited savings with the fertiliser costs if stock numbers are similar to last year. However he has the advantage of having fertiliser left over form 2021 which was bought at standard prices so that will be a big saving for him in 2022 at current prices.
This year Proinnsias would like to focus on increasing his output per livestock unit to over 500 kg/LU (currently 453 kg/LU). This will involve maximising the weight gain of all the cattle on his farm. This can be done in a number of ways:
- Monitoring calf health: Calves are vaccinated against RSV and Pi3. They will be also given a preventative treatment against coccidiosis. As calves are bought from a number of sources they are housed separately as much as possible to reduce the risk of disease spreading. Proinnsias has also sourced calves from a local farm this year which will reduce stress for them and reduce disease risk.
- Maximising weight gain at grass: Early turnout of stock when conditions allow will help to increase weight gains in store cattle. Grazing covers at 1400 kg DM/ha will be key for this.
- Worm burden at grass: Cattle can be faecal tested to determine if they need to be dosed at grass to ensure there is no burden on their systems.
- Silage quality: By continuing to produce silage quality >70% DMD this will allow cattle to gain as much weight as possible on a forage diet.
- Milk replacer and ration quality: Feeding a balanced milk replacer and ration with adequate protein and energy which should be derived from good quality ingredients, it will help cattle to perform at their optimum.
- Housing and feeding space allowances: Having adequate lying space and feeding space for housed cattle is crucial for them to perform well. The new shed will be a huge asset in this regard.
- Adequate ventilation: Good ventilation in sheds will help to clear stale air and reduce the incidence of disease.
- Bedding: Keep calves well bedded so that they are not burning energy to keep warm.
- Breeding: Buying stock that have good ratings on the commercial beef index will ensure that they are genetically predicted to perform well for finishing, i.e. have good carcass weight, carcass conformation, carcass fat, feed intake and docility.
See Proinnsias Creedon's profile: Future Beef programme farmer: Proinnsias Creedon
Further Information: New Commercial Beef Value (CBV) announced by ICBF
Find out more about the Future Beef Programme here: Future Beef Programme