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Saturday 21 October 2017

Roscommon farmer on switching from suckling to calf to beef system

Roscommon farmer Christy Dowd has increased output since switching to a calf to beef system, writes Gordon Peppard

Christy Dowd pictured with some of the Hereford heifers on his farm near Tulsk, Co Roscommon
Christy Dowd pictured with some of the Hereford heifers on his farm near Tulsk, Co Roscommon

Gordon Peppard

THREE years ago Christy Dowd faced several challenges on his beef farm near Tulsk, Co Roscommon.

The system he was operating just wasn't profitable enough. The output was low and the suckler system was costing too much. The land was fragmented and cash flow was poor.

However, much has changed since he joined the Teagasc Acres Calf to Beef programme in 2015, as will be seen when he hosts a Teagasc Green Acres farm walk next week.

The event will focus on Christy's system of production, animal health and performance, grassland management and the physical/financial stance of his farm.

Prior to joining the programme, Christy had a herd of 40 suckler cows, selling bull calves at nine to 12 months of age and heifers as stores at 18 months.

Christy decided in early 2015 that he was going to introduce a calf to beef system to increase output. The stocking rate was increased with the purchase of approximately 50 Angus/Hereford heifer calves.

The idea was that the suckler cow numbers would be reduced as the calf to beef number increased.

The calves were bought in at two to three weeks of age and reared on an automatic milk feeder, straw, fresh water plus concentrate for the first 10 weeks, and then went to grass for their first grazing season, receiving 1kg of concentrate.

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As this was Christy's first year rearing calves, he encountered some teething problems in relation to sickness and housing. This set some stock back in terms of meeting their target sale date and meant that animals were on the farm longer than anticipated.

Having grazed for their first season at grass, the calves were housed in mid- to late November and fed silage and concentrates. The level of concentrate supplementation was based on the quality of the silage.

Following a second year at grass, the heifers were housed in early November and built up to 5kg of concentrates for finishing.

Heifers were slaughtered from January to March out of the shed as they became fit.

The plan for Christy over the course of the Teagasc Green Acres programme is to drive output on the farm and sell more kilos of beef per hectare by utilising more grass.

To achieve this, he has made some changes to his farming system. Suckler cow numbers have been reduced to 24 this year and will be phased out altogether over the next 18 months.

Forty Friesian bull calves will be purchased in the autumn to make better use of the automatic milk feeder. These will be slaughtered as 24-month old steers.

Fifty Angus/Hereford bull calves will be reared in the spring to be slaughtered as 23-month old steers.

A grassland plan will enable Christy to make better use of grazed grass from his paddock system. The main elements of the plan are grass measuring, maintaining soil fertility levels, getting cattle out earlier and introducing a reseeding programme.

Calves will be purchased as early as possible in February/March so that a strong calf will go to grass in the first season; this will allow more weight gain to be obtained at grass.

Due to the increasing number of calves to be reared, a comprehensive animal health plan has been put in place in conjunction with his local vet, focusing on a good vaccination programme.

Christy will be available on the day of the farm walk to answer any questions in relation to challenges and rewards of setting up a dairy calf to beef enterprise. Advisers and specialists from Teagasc along with representatives from the sponsoring companies will also be available to answer queries in relation to calf to beef systems.

There will be two farm walks on Christy Dowd's farm on Thursday, July 6, at 2pm and 6.30pm. See www.teagasc.ie/animals/beef/demonstration-farms/green-acres-calf-to-beef/ or phone 059 917 0200. This farm walk is a DAFM-approved KT event.

Gordon Peppard is programme adviser for the Teagasc Calf to Beef Programme


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