Increasing your Profits from Beef Farming
Type Media Article
By Eddie Webb, B&T Soil & Environment Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare
There is a big variation in the performance of beef farms across the industry. Financial accounts for year-end have consistently highlighted the gap in performance between the top 1/3 of beef farms to the average and even greater gap between the average beef farms to the bottom 1/3. Farms that produce the highest amount of beef per hectare are consistently making the highest profits per hectare. However farmers will need to be vigilant as regards cost control this year as variable costs will increase in 2021 with a focus needed on the 3 F’s - Fertiliser; Feed and Fuel.
The 3 biggest factors that drive the beef live weight per hectare are
- Production per suckler cow
- Performance per herd
- Stocking rate per hectare
1. Production per Suckler Cow
Farmer’s main aim is to increase the live weanlings produced every 365 days per 100 cows put to the bull. This is driven by
Cow fertility: the sooner a cow is back in calf and produces her next calf the more productive she is. A long calving interval together with a high empty rate are indicative of poor breeding performance. Farmers registered for ICBF Herdplus have access to detailed information on calving interval per year. This can be used to identify if trends are improving on farm; comparison with national average and identifying poor performing cows that should be culled.
Calving Pattern Having a defined compact calving period and setting out clear objectives for targeting a 365 day calving interval, 12 week calving spread is required on the farm. The bull should not be allowed to run with the cows all year round and the breeding period should be confined to less than 70days. A calf born in mid Feb would achieve a heavier weaning weight of 90kg compared to calf born in early May with the financial gain being seen in the mart ring at time of sale.
Mortality: Deaths of calf’s at calving or shortly afterwards can be high on farms. Selection of easy calving bulls to minimise calving difficulty together with monitoring cow condition and nutrition from drying off should put the cow on a good footing at time of calving. This should ensure the cow produces colostrum so that the calf will have an immunity to any disease challenge.
2. Performance per Herd
The higher the liveweight gained by each growing animal, the higher the overall beef output per hectare. Grassland management will determine the output on farms where the target is to graze high quality leafy grass. A long grazing season is essential to maximize performance at grass and early turnout in spring will be reflective of the closing/resting of fields from the previous year. Performance tends to dip in the second half of the grazing season from July as grass quality and weight gains decline due to poor grazing management in the early part of the year.
Silage quality will determine the liveweight gain over the winter period with low dry matter digestibility (DMD) achieve little or no live weight gains. Poor quality silage will have to be compensated by higher levels of concentrate supplementation that will have a subsequent detrimental impact on the financial performance of the farm.
Animal that are healthy and are free of parasites, respiratory diseases will achieve a superior beef liveweight gain per day. Timely use of doses at recommended rates should be followed. A herd health plan specific to each farm should be drawn up with consultation with your vet. Particularly where an outbreak on a farm has occurred recently an important step is to sit down with your local vet and discus prevention strategies.
3. Stocking Rate
Farmers that achieve success at production per suckler cow and performance per herd should aim to increase the stocking rate on the farm. The stocking rate will be largely reflective of the land type; grazing management systems; cattle housing and labour availability. It’s essential that increases in stocking rate are supported by higher levels of grass grown on the farm. Grass measuring and budgeting tools such as Pasturebase helps to farmers more informed of the grass status on the farm and make decisions to achieve better farm performance.
As we start a new year, it’s an appropriate time to reflect on farm performance and identify areas where farm improvement could be achieved in 2022. Such key areas include
- Tighten calving pattern to one 12 week period
- Tighten an average calving interval of 365 days
- Increase calves produced per cow per year
- Calve cows earlier to increase weanling sales weight
- Cull poor performing cows and replace with heifers
- Purchase a 5 star stock bull
- Soil test portion of farm and lime accordingly
- Turn stock out earlier to grass in Spring
- Cut silage earlier to improve its quality for growing cattle
- Reseed poor performing pastures.
Prioritising the top 3 areas will provide a focus to farmer’s intentions in 2022 that should result in increasing the beef output on the farm. A consultation with your farm advisor will determine what the current performance in these area’s and the best management practice that can be adopted at farm level to improve same.
On behalf of Teagasc Galway/Clare, I wish all your families a peaceful Christmas and glad tidings for the New Year.