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Friday 9 December 2016

Green acres calf to beef... Room to expand

Teagasc advisor Gordon Peppard profiles two of the participating farmers in the Green Acres Calf to Beef programme

Published 27/05/2015 | 02:30

John Lalor is looking at options to increase stock numbers on the family farm at Ballyfin, Co Laois
John Lalor is looking at options to increase stock numbers on the family farm at Ballyfin, Co Laois

John Lalor and his family farm 115ac of grassland, along with additional land in cereals, in Co Laois. John currently has 90 Angus and Hereford heifer calves bought in, and plans to bring this up to 100 calves before the end of May.

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While John plans to rear and finish approximately 100 Angus/Hereford heifers every year, this number may well increase over the next few years to take advantage of new reseeds and additional grass utilised from his new paddock system.

The biggest obstacle to increased stock numbers will be housing availability. John could build more shed space, but this is probably the least likely option.

Alternatively, heifers in their second year could be finished at grass without the need for re-housing, which would leave more space for younger stock.

The final option is to convert existing sheds into animal housing. All options will be assessed over the course of the three-year programme.

2015 calves

The current split on calves is 60 Angus and 30 Hereford. They are fed twice a day with four litres of milk, or the equivalent of 700g of milk replacer. John aims to have them eating at least 1kg of a 18pc protein course ration daily by weaning.

Calves will be cut back to once-a-day milk feeds about 10 days before weaning. These calves also have access to straw and water at all times.

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Animal health

As blackleg can be an issue on the farm, calves will be given a Tribovax 10 injection to protect against 10 clostridial diseases, including blackleg.

This product requires a two-shot programme to be given four to six weeks apart. The vaccine can be used from two weeks of age, but the two shots are essential. Protection lasts for up to 12 months when an annual booster injection can be given.

In past years coccidiosis has been a problem on the farm so John blanket treats all calves with Bovicox to help prevent it.

Yearling stock was given a fenbendazole dose five weeks after turn-out.

This product is active against stomach and lung worms, but John has decided that he will take faecal samples for worm egg counts before dosing in future to get a better idea if there is a requirement to dose.

Rumen fluke can be a problem on the farm and this will be monitored also.

Animal weighing

There are currently 14 two year-old heifers left on the farm for finishing. These are the last of the group from last year's animals to be slaughtered. They were weighed at the beginning of March and had an average weight of 450kg.

They have now been re-weighed and have clocked an average of 487kg. Their performance was mixed however, with some gaining 0.8kg per day, while others were disappointing at only 0.3kg per day.

A number of these animals are well over 500kg and will be killed off grass within the next month, while a few of them will need to be pulled out separately and supplemented with meal to get them finished in the next four to six weeks.

On my last visit to the farm, we caught a few calves and using the weight band we got an idea of the weight of a number of them. All the calves that we put the band around were 58-60kg.

Assuming an Angus heifer to be about 40kg at birth, these calves have then gained approximately 20kg over the last 30 days.

This gives them an average daily gain of 0.65kg, succeeding in hitting one of the key targets for calf rearing of 0.65-0.75kg daily liveweight gain up to 12 weeks of age.

Soil testing

John's farm was soil sampled in March by his local Teagasc adviser, Paul Gilligan, before any slurry or fertilisers were applied.

The results show that parts of the farm are low in phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Lime levels on many areas of the farm are adequate but some fields require up to 5t/ac.

The lime will be reduced on the more peaty fields on the farm to avoid a situation where the lime breaks down the top soil to the point that the field becomes boggy.

Gordon Peppard is the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme advisor email: gordon.peppard@teagasc.ie

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