Finishing Friesian steers off-grass at 24 months would be challenging: not only would it be environmentally damaging, it would also be extremely inhumane
Looking back at 2021, it has been quite a strange year. Even though there was a good cover of grass on my paddocks in early February, because of the cold weather it was late April before I left the last of my cattle out.
My worries continued with the poor early summer growth, which led to ongoing concerns about thrive. The broken weather in May also meant my first-cut silage had to be cut and picked up on the same day — hopefully it will turn out OK.
Thankfully, factory returns show I need not have worried: there was a 7kg improvement in carcass weight gain, compared to 2020.
My Friesian cattle achieved an average liveweight gain for the year of about 250kg on my unfertilised paddocks; so old, natural swaths, high in biodiversity, are still well capable of fattening beef cattle.
This raises the question of why the critical importance of biodiversity to our ecosystems has been ignored for so long by our political and scientific community.
Back to the cattle… fat scores were slightly back, averaging midway between a 3- and a 3=. This was disappointing as my cattle appeared far fleshier than usual when bought in as stores last autumn.
Conformation grades remained the same, with a two to one split between P grades and O grades.
People may be surprised that I’m not overly concerned, but I still regard a good strong P+ to be a decent type of bullock who will always kill out well.
For me, farming is a way to make a living, not a way to impress the neighbours or win rosettes.
Of course the biggest and most welcome change this year was the strong factory prices. Combined with the extra carcass weights, these made a huge difference to what I received for my cattle.
Regarding my replacements, Friesian store cattle in the marts didn’t weigh that well this autumn. This meant that for the same weight I got a bigger if slightly barer bullock for my money.
Luckily with the good weather, these cattle have done well since being bought. Currently they are housed and are being fed second-cut baled silage left over from last year.
However, no matter how well we do our business and how hard we work, it can all come to nought if factors outside our farm gate combine to work against us.
Brazil’s space research agency (Inpe) found that deforestation in the Amazon had increased by 22pc in a year, reaching its highest level since 2006.
A linked 1999 report suggested that rampant deforestation of the Amazon is driven by a global greed for meat.
Such reports make it even more difficult to understand why farmers in Ireland, after being brainwashed for years into increasing output, are now being directed to reduce output on our internationally recognised, naturally rich pasture lands.
Another government-inspired proposal that beef cattle should be slaughtered before reaching 24 months appears to be gaining support in some circles.
With such damaging and ill-thought-out proposals being bandied about, the time has come for the voices of our many independent experts to be heard.
These are not people who spend their time sitting behind desks in government buildings — rather they are the people who most days end up in muddy fields and farmyards discussing real-life farming problems with their clients.
I reckon these people would quickly identify the catastrophic implications of a 24-month rule for our slow-maturing continental herds, beloved of so many part-time farmers west of the Shannon.
I accept that changes must be made such as introducing earlier-fattening breeds, but not in this short-sighted manner, which would result in a dramatic increase in expensive animal feed imports.
For me, finishing Friesian steers off-grass at 24 months would be challenging.
Not only would it be environmentally damaging but it would also be extremely inhumane.
Cattle normally fattened on fields of grass would be forced to spend most of their shortened lives indoors, gorging themselves on feed of dubious origin and content.
So long as our desk-top experts propose such measures and ignore issues such as the critical advantage Friesian steers have in not being burdened with 100pc of their mothers’ methane emissions, it’s difficult to see any form of rational policy evolving.
It also makes you wonder what happened to our much lauded, world famous, grass-fed beef?
If a 24-month age limit is imposed, because of the increased costs involved, it is inevitable that many un-finished cattle will be presented for slaughter.
The damage which this substandard unfinished meat will do to our global reputation as producers of high-quality, grass-fed beef is incalculable.
Can you imagine fruit sellers asking their customers to eat inedible un-ripened-fruit? Expecting people to buy tough inedible beef from unfinished 24-month-old cattle is no different.
John Heney farms in Kilfeackle, Co Tipperary