Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 6 December 2016

Grass and breeding

Darragh McCullough meets a farmer who is on top of his game after joining the Teagasc BETTER Beef programme

Published 16/03/2016 | 02:30

Ger Dineen with his 2016 calf crop. Calving is almost over due to the nine-week compact calving system, with all cows calving straight to grass.
Ger Dineen with his 2016 calf crop. Calving is almost over due to the nine-week compact calving system, with all cows calving straight to grass.
An aerial shot of Ger Dineen’s tidy farmyard set-up.
Ger's calves have access to most of the farm to chose the grass they want. This cuts out the need for any creep feeding.

Less than 10 years ago, Ger Dineen was ready to quit farming.

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Now he's running one of the most profitable beef herds in the country. How did it happen? Two words: grass and breeding.

"It's all about grass - that's how I've cut my costs," he explains.

"A decade ago I was spending 40pc of my Single Farm Payment just keeping the place going. Last year, we achieved a gross margin of €1,840/ha."

But the Kilnamartyra man stressed that it was no walk in the park.

"I get it right a lot of the time, but it's still a hard game. Especially for a fella that is trying to work off-farm - that's getting to be a tough racket when you're trying to maximise grazed grass at this time of year when you need to be moving them every 12 hours."

The big turning point for Dineen was when he joined Teagasc BETTER beef farm programme.

"I knew that it was crazy to be eating into my Single Farm Payment, and with it starting to be reduced, I knew that I had to make a real go of it or else forget about it," he says.

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The first thing he did was plant 30ac of forestry on the heaviest marginal land. Cow numbers were reduced from 80, and a focus on grass and moving into a more profitable type of beef system were all implemented.

16-month system

"The weanling producer is at a disadvantage because he can't get enough weight on the calf to get to at least €1,000/ha.

"The finishers have up and down years, depending on the prices at both ends. So I think the best place for a beef farmer to be is a suckler finisher, and in the Teagasc comparisons, it's the under 16 month finisher that is the most profitable system at the moment.

"I started finishing bulls when they moved onto the grid, and in the last five years that I've been doing them, I've seen my meal usage halve from 2t per head fall to just 1t/hd," he says.

In fact, the finishing animals are the only stock on the farm that get any meal, with both calves and cows expected to perform on grazed grass and silage alone.

Pressure

"We're growing about 14tDM/ha of grass, but I graze savage tight to get that, and I am constantly taking out bales for silage, and measuring grass every week.

"The calves would be under terrible pressure if they had to survive on the grass that I allocate the cows. Instead, all the electric fencing is single strand at a height that allows the calves to keep grazing ahead of the cows.

"When you see my cows in the field, there'll be no calves around them - that's my creep system. Only silage ground has a double strand of wire. But that's not to say you can get away with mediocre fencing - it needs to be good for this to work," he says.

And while many farmers are downbeat about the long-term prospects in beef, Dineen is the opposite, albeit in a realistic way.

"I can see a future for beef, but you have to get a huge amount right."

Ger dineen on...

PREMIUMS

"The 5-10c/kg premium for Angus and Hereford stock will eventually go. They've already started phasing it out in other countries, and I think they'll all go here when supplies reach a certain level. They might continue paying it in the off-season, but I can't see it lasting," he said.

SILAGE

"We're taking cuts here earlier and earlier. I like to take at least one cut from each paddock every year to keep it fresh. It means that we can end up with some very good silage, which helps push the bulls on indoors and keeps the meal bill down. This year I had 75DMD silage for the bulls, and I hope to rely on this at the start of the housed period to try to reduce the meal feeding period to just 3-4 months."

ON BREEDING

"I put a lot of effort into picking my breeding bulls because if you make a big mistake, you won't know for five years."

GENOMICS

"Genomics is my great white hope. I'm very enthusiastic about it, but feel it's a 10-20 year project. Really we need more fellas weighing their stock regularly because genomics is no use without data behind it.

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