Beef: Enterprise improves fat scores
As we face into the more traditional November weather I feel it is an opportune time to take stock.
With just one load of finished cattle left to sell and all my store cattle bought-in, a clearer picture is emerging of how my Friesian 'store to beef enterprise' has worked out this year I suppose the main standout feature was the noted improvement in fat scores right from the very first load sold.
This year I had very few cattle that didn't have a fat score of three or more with some actually managing to reach a four.
There was also a noticeable improvement in confirmation with the number of my cattle grading P down by a third. Probably a more important fact was that nearly all my P grade cattle graded a P+. Carcase weights however, only improved by about six or seven kilos on average, which I feel is not that great considering the other improvements. However, it was very welcome nonetheless.
These improvements are all the more interesting when you consider that the summer of 2014 which I'm using as a comparison was itself very good.
The best explanation I have heard for the excellent performance figures experienced this year came from my agricultural consultant. He pointed out that while grass growth may not have been that great, growth was very 'even' right through the grazing season with little or no sudden bursts of extreme growth and no extended periods of poor growth. This resulted in cattle having fresh young grass available to them right through the grazing season which really highlighted how vitally important good grass management is. With nearly all my beef cattle gone, there is a good supply of grass available for my store cattle which continue to thrive well. My average buying-in weight this year is up about 10kgs from last year with some weighing in at over 500kgs.
I am hoping that this will allow me to get cattle sold a bit earlier next year, that is if no problems arises such as a late spring or other unforeseen difficulties. Sometimes, information becomes available which reaffirms a strongly held belief that we may hold. Such was the case when I heard recent media reports about the ongoing 'Aran Life Project'.
What really struck me was the wisdom of the experts involved who spoke of the importance of "information being harnessed from farmers" and how scientific data is now backing up the knowledge of traditional farming practises which have been carried on by the island farmers over the centuries.
For far too long this traditional knowledge has been completely ignored and often ridiculed in Ireland. If a person did have the temerity to mention it, they would in all likelihood suffer the indignity of being spoken down to by some self-styled farming guru as if they were a type of half-wit or simply an old fashioned Luddite.
Of course modern science is important and there's always room for us to improve our enterprises. A lot of excellent research continues to be undertaken and a huge amount of valuable information is available to help us to increase efficiency.
Unfortunately, good and all as these measures are, they can only begin to address the problems which prevent cattle farming becoming sufficiently profitable to attract our next generation of young farmers. We could follow the rather simplistic but politically favoured route of dramatically increasing output; but this route involves massive investments in time and money.
Bitter experience has shown cattle farmers that following this course of action gives little or no guarantee of a sustainable increase in income. The bottom line is that the books must balance and unforeseen issues such as market volatility and extreme weather have sometimes resulted in irreparable losses being incurred. Perhaps the time has arrived to reassess the situation in light of the findings emerging from the 'Aran Life Project'. It also highlights the enormous benefits this 'traditional wisdom' has for our environment and I feel that it behoves our Government to investigate the possible benefits of extending this enlightened approach to farming nationwide.
Considering the lack of success of current measures reflected in the ongoing unsustainably low incomes generated on cattle farms, I would respectfully suggest that lessons learned from this project may indeed provide a very useful template for a better way forward for us all.
John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary
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