'We need to think a about what exactly we want from the suckler herd'
Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30
A lot of progress has been made by suckler farmers and finishers, yet a lot more needs to be done for the sector to deliver a decent living for family farmers.
Michael Guinan says that lighter the carcase weights being sought by processors will not deliver a good return for finishers.
"I know they are trying to get animals finished at the lighter weights to suit the particular market, but the steers that are being killed at 22 months of age are only coming in to €1,100-€1,200 in return for the finisher.
"That is no good because it is not going to give a living to any beef finisher. A good Charolais or Limousin bullock at the same age can come into €1,700-€1,800," says Michael.
He pointed out that in the Derrypatrick Herd progeny coming off at eight to nine months were valued at an average of €758/hd.
"What good is that to any suckler farmer with the cost of maintaining the suckler cow being put at €700.
"They counteracted the point I was making to them by saying that the money was going to be made out of finishing, but the breeder is not necessarily the finisher - he is a specialist suckler producer that is not geared for finishing - and he can't get a living from that level of return at less than €3,000 for a 50 cow suckler herd.
Even at €600 to keep the cow he is only getting an income of €150/week out of it.
On his own choice for breeding he says, he is still inclined to "go with a good continental."
"I have seen that the Angus will put on more weight for age in the first 12 months, but it goes the other way after that and when the Limousin has a certain amount of growth made they take off and leave the Angus behind.
"If you are producing a nice butcher's heifer at 12-15 months, the Angus or Hereford is the way to go, but if your target is bit of weight in the carcase and higher returns then I'd be going for Limousin, Charolais or a Belgian Blue because they'll return more money to you," he says.
"We need a lot more thought being put into what we want to get from the suckler herd.
"There is no use breeding the small handy animal that is ideally suited to the market unless the market is going to respond by paying €5-€6/kg instead of €4/kg so that the man that is buying the weanlings has the scope to give the breeder a little more."
On the beef price he points to Teagasc showing that the break even point on production cost for beef is €4/kg and there has to be a margin for the finisher to live.
"Finishers need a base price of at least €4.50/kg to get a reasonable standard of living on the family farm.
"We're going no where at less than that - the industry is using producers and teasing them with a wee bit of price now and again.
"There is an attitude to pay finishers just enough to keep them alive. Finishers are living out of the single farm payment. It is not way to run a beef enterprise," he concludes.