Beef: Confused by conflicting beef sector messages
Published 08/04/2015 | 02:30
This year's winter has been a pretty benign affair compared to last year. The recent spell of windy and showery weather wasn't very pleasant for cattle that had just gone out to grass, but, hopefully, it will lead to a rise in temperature and an improvement in growth.
In spite of the poor growth I got two pens of cattle out on March 21. I put them on fields that had been stopped early last autumn and that had developed a good cover of grass.
My earlier optimism about having silage left over was somewhat mistaken and it was a great relief to see a reduction in the number of cattle in the shed.
As things stand at the moment with more cattle going out, silage supply should be OK.
My Friesian cattle have grown both taller and stronger during their time inside, but, as always, they still manage to look pretty miserable leaving the shed. Hopefully, with reasonable growing conditions and a bit of luck, I can expect the first load to be ready for sale around August.
The tidying-up that I did around the hedges this winter on my electric fence has never worked so well. I took the opportunity to have it tested during the winter and even though it is about 30 years old, it is still working well with very little reduction in power.
Of course, in a few months time it's nettles that will pose the greatest challenge to electric fences. So with the new pesticide regulations coming into operation next November, this could be a good summer to catch up on some spot-spraying.
Getting back to beef, recently we have heard calls from many sources for an increase in the export of young bull calves emanating from the dairy herd. The argument is that their continued presence in the country would lead to oversupply in our factories in two years' time.
I have serious reservations about this. I believe that it makes little sense to export Friesian bull calves for little more than €100/hd - if they were kept until they were 30 months old they would surely be worth well over €1,000 and probably twice that once they have been slaughtered and processed for export.
Exporting these animals as calves means that not alone is our national economy missing out, but badly needed jobs are also being lost in the meat processing sector.
These calves are a fortuitous by-product of our dairy sector and a very valuable natural resource which should be exploited to its full potential and not just dumped on the international market at a shamefully low price.
In an era of supposedly expanding global beef markets it is difficult to accept that beef prices should collapse once our weekly kill goes over 30,000hd. If there is a problem with capacity in our beef processing plants and the securing of new markets, it behoves our government and their officials to face up to their responsibilities and sort it out - and not allow it to be used as another 'stick' to beat beef farmers with.
I am also puzzled that no serious economic research has been undertaken about the financial viability of breeding a better type of Friesian calf?
A visit to any mart will show you how valuable good British Friesian store cattle are, often fetching superior prices to some of the so-called beef breeds.
In recent weeks, one government minister presented a report on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement which forecast a further decline in the fortunes of Irish beef farmers.
He was apparently oblivious to the fact that a fellow minister has for the past few months been talking-up the enormous potential of the very same beef sector.
Is it any wonder that as a beef producer I feel very confused?
John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary.