Suckler farms still falling short of breeding targets
Making a margin out of suckler beef production is challenging. The Teagasc eProfit Monitor data for last year shows that for suckler-to-weanling/stores, the average gross margin per livestock unit was €148.
The best in the class, the top one-third of farmers using the eProfit Monitor, achieved an average gross margin of €273/LU, but the bottom one-third were in the red. Price did have an impact on last year's results compared to the previous year, but that is only part of the story. So how can this be improved?
Improving the fertility performance of the herd is the first step, and getting more out of grazed grass is the second. The breeding season is well under way on suckler units at the moment, but just because the sun has been shining, the grass is growing and the stock is out, doesn't mean that all is going well. Letting the bull in and closing the gate is not sufficient.
The figures mentioned clearly show that all is not well on the breeding front on most suckler farms. The targets of a 365-day or less-calving interval, a 12-week calving spread and 60pc of cows calving in the first month are not being met on most farms.
We are right in the middle of the breeding season at present, so close monitoring is critical. On many farms last year, the empty rate was not known until it was too late to do anything about it and culling rates were higher as a result.
Those using AI are ahead of the curve and will know the submission rates, the numbers repeating and will therefore be using better genetics. Those using a stock bull should try to gather this information as well by observing activity more frequently. Even herding twice a day to observe cows will help.
Are cows coming on heat and being served? Have all cows shown? How many are repeating? It is only when this information is picked up and recorded that you are in a position to take corrective action if it is necessary.
Improving animal performance at grass is the other area that should be targeted. It is the cheapest way to put weight on animals and improve performance. Maintaining grass quality by having a planned grazing strategy will deliver results.