I recognise that the sector has a feelgood factor about it and is good for the environment, but I am concerned about its financial viability
Beef farming has been under the microscope as never before, and we have been re-evaluating where things stand.
On the plus side, beef prices are better than they have been for a long time.
About three-quarters of our under-16-month bulls have been sold. When you start selling young bulls, there is always a concern about fat score, but our home-grown cereals seem to have done the business again this year because fat cover has been good, with a lot of the bulls falling into Category 3.
Weights are holding well, around an average of 410kg. So it looks like they will come in about 5kg lighter than last year.
But this year’s bulls are a lot more consistent. Last year, we had a few very heavy bulls, which distorted the average.
Because of their age, weight and fat cover, they hit the higher price region on the grid, which is operating off a higher base price than recent years.
So, even though the bulls are slightly lighter, they are coming into a much better price per head. I am delighted I didn’t take the advice that was going around a couple of years ago, to castrate them!
So overall, there is not a major push for change coming from inside the farm gate,
Outside the farm gate, there is a lot of uncertainty about the future direction of land usage — we keep hearing about intensification, extensification, re-wetting, re-wilding, forestry, solar farms, organic farming.
When it comes to organics, I recognise that the sector has a feelgood factor about it and is good for the environment, but I am concerned about its financial viability.
Would a significant swing into organic production saturate the market and ruin it for the people already in it?
A swing to organic farming would have more of a positive impact on the environment than it would on farmer income.
So we have no plans to change our system — just keep trying to do it better.
In previous years, we fattened the female cohorts of our young bulls, selling them out of the shed at around 20 months in April.
We were planning to not fatten these heifers in the shed this spring, instead turning them out to grass and sell them as two-year-olds (because we usually have plenty grass in the summer and thought we would try something different).
But, when we saw the prices being quoted for fertiliser, we have changed our mind, and reverted back to the previous plan.
And in an effort to keeping our stocking rate as low as possible during the summer (to reduce the need for fertiliser), we also weaned the cows that are not being re-bred.
Most of these are older cows. It won’t take much time to finish them, about 40-50 days, and we have enough home-grown cereals to comfortably do that job.
We also aim, when we scan the main herd of cows at the end of the month, to wean those that are not in calf and fatten them as well.
The plan is to only turn out to grass those cows that are rearing a calf and scanned in-calf, along with in-calf heifers and stock bulls.
Two other jobs that we have to do before turnout are the scanning and the TB test.
I don’t see many cows cycling, just the same few repeats. Whether it means the rest are in calf or are just not cycling, we will have to wait and see.
I went for a walk around the grass fields last week. I don’t think I ever saw so much grass around this time of the year. It’s important that we get stock out early to grass, even if it’s only some of them.
Looking at the covers on some of the fields, the value of an early spread of urea is questionable, so at least that’s something.
Given the amount of grass that’s around and that we have plenty of tank space, most of the fields will be grazed before we think of spreading slurry on them.
I also walked the winter cereals and they never looked as well for the time of year. We didn’t roll any of the fields after sowing last autumn, so at some stage, we are going to have to spend a few days picking stones.
At least, some things don’t change!
Robin Talbot farms in Ballacolla, Co Laois, in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann