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Beef Production System Guidelines

23 September 2015
Type Book

These system guidelines have been developed by Teagasc cattle specialists and beef researchers in association with Bord Bia beef market analysts.

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Beef farming in Ireland is characterised by many different beef production systems where cattle are sold off farms for further finishing on another farm or else are sold direct to slaughter.

Our national suckler herd supplies a significant proportion of the cattle slaughtered each year but with an expanding national dairy herd there is an increasing supply of calves of dairy origin that are being finished as beef. Both early and late maturing beef sires are used on suckler and dairy cows which also influences their age at slaughter and their carcass weights. In recent years, a considerable proportion of male beef animals are being finished as bulls at varying ages and weights. These systems are very different to the traditional steer finishing systems practiced on many farms.

No one beef production system is the optimum system for finishing beef cattle with each having its own merits and risks. For any beef system to be profitable and sustainable in the long term there are a number guidelines and targets that beef farmers need to be aware of and should work towards achieving. It is also important that beef farmers focus on the areas within their chosen beef system that they can improve on over time instead of moving from one beef system to another as a reaction to short term changes in the market. At the Beef Industry Roundtable Discussions chaired by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine one of the key actions agreed was that Teagasc and Bord Bia would produce a set of guidelines for beef farmers to follow when targeting a particular beef system. These guidelines were to include best practice around the management to achieve target daily gains, an estimate of the inputs required and the outputs achievable, an awareness of the different market requirements that the beef would be sold into and the risks involved, if any, associated with each system.

This publication outlines 14 of the most common beef systems on Irish farms at present. It includes both suckler and dairy calf to beef systems. As the production of the suckler calf up until it is weaned from the cow is quite similar this stage of the production cycle is not covered under each system, with an assumed common weaning weight for male and female calves of 320kg and 290kg liveweight, respectively. Similarly, the first 10 to 12 weeks rearing phase of the dairy calf is not included with an assumed common weaned calf weight of 90-100kg liveweight. Both these phases of production (for the suckler calf and the dairy bred calf) are extremely important and can have a significant influence on the subsequent lifetime performance of an animal. For suckler farmers selling their calves shortly after they are weaned, the profitability of their system is hugely influenced by the weight and quality of the calf that they sell due to the very high costs of keeping the suckler cow for a year and where the majority of their output is the value of the calf each cow rears. The cost of keeping the suckler cow will depend to large extent on the length of the grazing season which is heavily influenced by land type and weather. Where the winter housing period is extended these costs are considerably higher when compared to drier farms with longer grazing seas.

All of the performance data and estimates of inputs and outputs outlined for each system is based on data generated from Teagasc research in Grange Research Centre and Johnstown Castle. It also includes data verified in Teagasc research demonstration herds such as the Derrypatrick herd in Grange.

Almost 90% of Irish beef production is exported. Exports exceed 500,000 tonnes annually, making Ireland the largest net exporter of beef in the EU and fourth largest in the world. Nowadays, over 95% of Irish beef exports are focused on the higher value consumer markets of the UK and continental Europe. The vast majority of these exports are in the form of boneless primal cuts. After deboning, beef cuts from an individual carcase are supplied to several different customers, according to market demand. Irish beef is supplied to over 85 EU supermarket chains, as well as major manufacturing and foodservice customers, who have specific requirements with regard to the type of beef that they buy. With this in mind, production systems need to supply prime beef which meets the demands of our most important markets.

The industry has developed a Quality Payment Scheme (QPS) which delivers a bonus payment on top of the quoted base price to producers who deliver steers, heifers and young bulls that meet the specifications laid out in table 1 below. It is important to realise that not all the production systems outlined will qualify for the QPS because animals may not meet the age, conformation, fat score or quality assurance criteria laid down at the time of slaughter. It is also the case where not all processors will pay a QPS on Under 16 month bulls so producers should consult with their processor. It is advisable if producing animals outside of target market specifications, producers should be in communication with their processors.

These system guidelines have been developed by Teagasc cattle specialists and beef researchers in association with Bord Bia beef market analysts.


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