Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 30 March 2017

Regular heifer drafting helps put more QPS cash in pocket

Robin Talbot

Michael Browne, Letterkenny, Co Donegal (second from right), with the Show Champion, is presented with the Mart Cup by mart manager Erice McGuckin (right) at the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Mart weanling show and sale . Also featured are (from left) Charlie Robinson, Gerard McCool, Joe Carlin, Gareth Patterson, Michael McCauley, Boby Patterson, Roy Stevenson and Clive Stevenson
Michael Browne, Letterkenny, Co Donegal (second from right), with the Show Champion, is presented with the Mart Cup by mart manager Erice McGuckin (right) at the Ballybofey and Stranorlar Mart weanling show and sale . Also featured are (from left) Charlie Robinson, Gerard McCool, Joe Carlin, Gareth Patterson, Michael McCauley, Boby Patterson, Roy Stevenson and Clive Stevenson

I know there has been a lot of negative talk about the QPS but it has certainly increased the value of our heifers as compared with the flat rate system. Virtually all our two-year-old beef heifers are now sold and, as we look back over the returns, its obvious that the QPS has put a good few euro in our pocket.

The grid is linked to the specification that the market wants. You can't tell the customer what they want; what you can do is argue over how much they pay for it. If I was selling milk, my price would be based on the quality -- the same with grain -- so why shouldn't it be that way for beef?

To maximise our returns from the QPS, we changed the way we sold our heifers. Traditionally, we would have sold larger numbers of stock together, whereas this time, we drafted heifers for sale every fortnight. All the heifers have been moved at an earlier age than in the past when they would have been kept on for bigger weights. As a result, we had no penalties for either under- or over-finished stock. This is something we should have been doing anyway. An added bonus to all this is that their departure freed up more grass for cows and calves.

Meanwhile, the new breeding season has started with the turnout of the stock bulls in the middle of the month. With our focus on the export trade, we have bought two new Belgian Blue bulls.

While our calving was relatively trouble free this year, the one thing I notice is that we have too many Limousin calves. For the export trade, there is aruond 50c/kg difference in value between the Belgian Blue bulls and the Limousin bulls, which equates to at least ?200/hd with the same cost of production. So, we will only be using the Limousin bull on our heifers and, at most, 10 cows.

Speaking of our breeding heifers, I am beginning to think I have made a huge mistake in keeping our own replacements. Last week, we were bringing them down the farm roadway (a journey they have done many times) to get their second Lepto shot. For some reason I can't explain, they spooked as they approached the yard, did a U-turn and came back in our direction. After three attempts, we succeeded in getting most of them into the yard -- but not before they practically demolished a perfectly good sheep-wire fence, complete with a strand of electric wire. Then we had to go and round up the remaining few heifers that had escaped and joined other stock.

Unless there is a serious change in attitude -- theirs not mine -- we will be looking at the once-calved heifer scheme.

We have started to close up fields for next spring's grass. This is proving awkward this year because of the amount of grass still around. I am also reluctant to make the cows with calves at foot graze paddocks bare. Not alone are they rearing young calves but the start of the breeding season is a key time to maintain energy levels.


So, next week, as long as ground conditions remain favourable, we hope to introduce a taste of their winter diet while they are still outdoors. Our logic is that, rather than being in the field one day and in the shed the next with totally different diets, we can evolve from one system to the other and minimise any upset when the breeding season is -- hopefully -- in full swing.

We gave the first-calvers an Allsure bolus from Animax. Hopefully, this will help to maintain thrive in their first lactation. Our first-calvers tend to have a lower body score at weaning than I would like. All calves have got their second shot of Bovipast RSP. They were also treated for lungworm and stomach worm with a pour-on.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother, Pam, and wife, Ann, in Ballacolla, Co Laois