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Thursday 19 January 2017

Beef: Give me our homegrown beef over American pie any day

Gerry Giggins

Published 08/06/2016 | 02:30

Photo: Depositphotos
Photo: Depositphotos
Carlow-based machinery firm Richard Keenan & Company

I recently travelled with the Irish delegation to the Alltech ONE Ideas conference in Kentucky where we visited some very interesting dairy and beef farms.

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Since my previous visit to America in 2012 a number of changing factors have had a significant effect on the beef industry.

The lowering of grain and soya bean prices have brought these feeds back in vogue as opposed to four years ago when the main feed focus was on the by-products from ethanol and distillery production.

Back in 2012, male calves from the dairy industry were very much viewed as an unwanted/nuisance end to a dairy cow's pregnancy. Since then, the American suckler herd has contracted significantly (by 10 million cows) resulting in greater demand for male calves from the dairy herd.

Production systems based upon moderate calf prices, excellent rearing, early castration, liberal hormone use and high cereal feed inputs result in a very acceptable end product for both the feedlot farmer and the beef packing industry. These steers are finished at 15-18 months of age producing a 325kg carcase.

They don't carry any of the marbling or quality characteristics of their Angus and Hereford bred feedlot compatriots, with factories paying on a meat eating quality basis. However, they are an ideal source of beef for the huge ground/mince beef market in the US.

While it was great to sample the extremely tender American steak and burgers it's still hard to beat our flavoursome and healthy beef here in Ireland.

The conference was attended by over 3,000 delegates from 72 countries and was a demonstration of Alltech's high standing throughout the agricultural world. The amazingly high calibre of the contributors was also to the fore.

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The new Alltech/Keenan brand was prominent throughout the conference and there was huge curiosity and interest surrounding both the machine and InTouch technology. It gave me great pride to see these two iconic Irish brands side by side on a world stage.

Away from the American ranches, tightening beef supplies, the good weather, strengthening of sterling and excellent silage making conditions have somewhat lifted the mood on an otherwise difficult year to date.

Weight issues

With the drop in numbers of finished cattle available, factories appear to have eased the specification requirements somewhat, particularly surrounding the weight issue. Grain prices appear to be staying stagnant globally.

While this is not great news for the cereal growers here in Ireland, for those that intensively feed beef animals it must be seen as a great opportunity to lower feed costs.

With the excellent grass growth in the past few weeks, the demand for brewing and distillery by-products has reduced and I have heard of deals being done for these products.

With both of these products, careful attention should be given if ensiling for medium to long term use.

Brewers' grains tend to be a slightly wetter product than they were heretofore and this makes it essential to add an appropriate absorbent when pitting.

Limited supplies of 2015 season potatoes are available at present. Where available, they are the ideal complement to brewers' grains prior to ensiling.

Where potatoes are ensiled, an increased rate of absorbent (soya hulls, beet pulp, citrus pulp and oat husks) is required.

I had the recent pleasure of judging the Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Beef Farmer of the Year. We had a range of outstanding entries and the final three represented all that is great with Irish beef production.

From excellent breeding, grassland management, the art of butchering to someone who had the vision to move the boundaries from conventional to organic production, we had great difficulty in arriving at our final decision.

Congratulations to Tom Dunne on his beef category and overall win. Tom helped change my view of organic production as being a low output and inefficient mode of beef farming.

I had my eyes opened as to the very high standards being set by not only Tom, but those within the organic beef circle that are breeding the raw material that is being taken through to finish.

There is huge potential for this sector to expand in a sustainable and profitable manner.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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