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Independent.ie

Saturday 21 October 2017

It's beef farming but not as we know it

Live online auctions and ultrasound technology are being used by US beef farmers in the battle against falling prices

Cattle as far as the eye can see in the beef state of Nebraska
Cattle as far as the eye can see in the beef state of Nebraska
Jerry Connealy

Enda Quinn

American farmers have embraced the use of science and technology on their farms, as they cope with what they call a 'price overcorrection'.

They've witnessed a record drop, with prices dropping 33pc over the last year, from $172 (€156) last November to $115 (€104) per hundred weight live, or €2.98 to €1.99/kg live weight.

On the Irish Aberdeen-Angus Producers Group study trip, Irish farmers met some of the top beef and dairy farmers in Nebraska and Colorado.

Nebraska is known as the 'Beef State' as cattle are the state's largest single industry. Last year, Nebraska took over from Texas as nation's top cattle feeding state.

Yet some of the practices on the US farms would fall foul of EU legislation.

These include the use of hormone growth promoters and now the feeding of Optaflexx, a feed ingredient that increases live weight gain and has a similar effect on the animals as angel dust had in the past in Ireland.

However, there were many practices in use on the farms that are legal in the EU also.

These include the use of electronic ear tags, hi-tech ultrasound to detect marbling, biological fly control, customised vaccinations, on-farm live internet cattle auctions and specialised cattle handling facilities/practices. Some of these are already in use and others may have benefits for the Irish beef industry in the future.

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An irish connection in the midwest beef belt

With a name like Connealy, it didn't come as any surprise when the man behind the Connealy Pedigree Angus Ranch in Whitman, Nebraska revealed his Irish roots.

The ranch is run by Jerry Connealy, his wife Sharon and their son Jed. They have 2,000 head of Angus cows and run them on 40,000 acres

Jerry is on the board of directors for the American Angus Association. They are also using the latest developments in science and technology to give them the edge in their business.

Jerry brought us in to a home built cattle mart facility, this is where he holds his annual bull sale on the fourth Saturday in March each year.

He went on to explain that when he first built this facility, it was just adequate to hold buyers around the ring but interest soon grew. He had to add an on-farm live internet and TV selling facility to accommodate the extra interested buyers.

Once the sale of a bull starts the buyer has about 30 seconds on average to buy each bull.

Average bull prices are running at $11,600 (€10,200), with a record price of $235,000 (€207,000) for a bull called Connealy Earnan sold in 2012.

He has supplied top Angus stud bulls to many of the AI companies and pedigree breeders around the US. Only the top 50pc of his bulls are sold through his sales ring with the remainder sold after the sale from home.

Every cow in the herd only gets two chances with AI to go in calf each season, effectively breeding out infertility.

Fertility was the number one economic driver for Jerry. He describes his ideal bull as siring offspring with improved ribeye size, increased marbling, a low birth weight and fast growth rates. He uses a combination of pedigree and ultrasound to work out the marbling of his bulls

During this trip the sheer scale of farms and farm activities was very impressive. The biggest feedlot we visited was feeding 80,000 cattle on one square mile, while we also visiting weanling producers, which were running cattle at a stocking rate of 16 acres/head on the open prairies of the Sandhills of Nebraska.

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