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Food for thought at open day in Teagasc Grange

05 July 2024
Type Media Article

By Ross Fitzgerald, B&T Drystock Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare

Farmers flocked to Grange for the 2024 Teagasc Beef Open Day. Sustainable farming practices were at the tip of all speakers’ tongues throughout the day and with a national biodiversity crisis, you can understand why. It was chock-full of valuable insights and provided and opportunity for beef farmers all around the country to engage with specialists regarding research that has taken place across beef farms by Teagasc.

Pearse Kelly, Head of Drystock Knowledge Transfer and Dr Paul Crosson, Beef Enterprise Leader led us through the first stands. The key message from the first two stands was very clear in producing high levels of beef output from a predominantly grazed grass diet which is one of the main drivers of a profitable and sustainable beef farm system. Crosson iterated that Ireland was at a very strong starting point environmentally in terms of beef production with the average carbon dioxide equivalence currently being 18kg with the potential to reach 15kg in time. Comparatively the global average is nearly triple that of Irish beef at 47kg.

The importance of a healthy work life balance was also a topical subject that was discussed. A recent online survey of beef farmers highlighted the prevalence of part-time farming with in excess of 50% of beef farmers working off farm and the desire for greater labour efficiency to improve their work-life balance. Weather conditions have had an adverse effect on the number of hours worked on beef farms with early winters and late springs a defining factor in recent years. Sustainable beef systems into the future will be the systems that return a healthy income for the number of hours devoted to them that can be managed in the amount of time available to the beef farmer who has good facilities and who makes effective decisions in the utilisation of contracted in labour and services.

Dairy-beef focus was prominent throughout the day with many representatives from Teagasc and ICBF outlining the potential of this system across numerous stands and demonstrations. Dairy-beef systems have been proven by research coupled with experience from commercial dairy beef farms that an opportunity exists to produce profitable, environmentally sustainable Irish beef from a grass based diet. Commercial Beef Value was a hot topic throughout the day when looking through pens of Dairy-beef offspring. The Commercial Beef Value (CBV) is a value that ICBF are now generating on all cattle that are likely to be finished as beef cattle. The CBV comprises five key traits: Carcass weight; carcass confirmation; carcass fat; feed intake; and docility. CBV is a metric for farmers to follow when buying dairy bred beef cattle in marts throughout the country. On average a group high CBV animals will have genetic potential for greater lifetime performance including increased average daily gain, better kill out percentages, higher carcass weights and earlier age of slaughter compared to low CBV animals.

Reducing finishing age in grass based systems was a major talking point throughout the day. Management and minimum growth target for each performance period of an animal’s life were analysed. Nationally beef steers are finished at 27 months of age after a third grazing season. In the suckler side of the house and consistent with previous analysis and evidence from commercial farm data, 16 month bull production had the greatest profit (€780/ha) and lowest GHG emissions per kg carcass and per cow unit. There are great ambitions of reducing the finishing age on the farm promoting economic efficiency. The message in Grange was that by optimising animal performance during all production stages to reduce finishing age through high-quality grass-based nutrition and excellent herd health we can strive towards more sustainable beef production. Below is a table displaying profitability and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of a 19 month suckler bull system and three suckler steer weanling-to-beef production systems finished at 20, 23 and 27 months of age.

Food for thought at open day in Teagasc Grange

The key take home messages from the suckler village was the potential for improved breeding performance within the national herd. Improving the genetic potential of the suckler cow through breeding higher replacement indexed animals was shown to improve fertility with a reduction in calving interval & age at first calving while maintenance costs are reduced and animal are surviving longer in the herd. This combined with increased weaning weight and lifetime carcass revenue on the progeny side illustrates that continued focus on this area should be a priority for all suckler farmers. The importance of sire selection was mentioned right throughout the day advising that farmers identify strengths and weaknesses of their suckler herds and selecting suitable sire to improve the metrics within the herd.

The clear message in Grange was that by optimising animal performance during all production stages to reduce finishing age through high-quality grass-based nutrition and excellent herd health we as a beef producing country can strive towards more sustainable beef production.

Food for thought at open day in Teagasc Grange