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Wednesday 15 August 2018

Top calf to beef farmers outline their secrets for success

David Drum from Athboy, Co Meath is one of the farmers in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme
David Drum from Athboy, Co Meath is one of the farmers in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme

Gordan Peppard

Phase 1 of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef three year programme has finished the 10 participating farmers have issued their top tips.

The 10 farmers started out at very different levels of profitability and over the course of the programme all have improved their margins substantially.

A number of the farms are still building stocking rates and improving efficiencies on farm while others are at or close to the planned levels.

There are also a lot of different management styles between farms in a number of the key areas like calf rearing, animal health, grass management, soil fertility and financial/farm planning.

A winter management plan has been drawn up by the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef team for Joe Farrell's farm in Castledermot, Co Kildare
A winter management plan has been drawn up by the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef team for Joe Farrell's farm in Castledermot, Co Kildare

Land type and stocking rate also has a bearing on the bottom line. Farm locations ranged from Kilkenny to Louth and Tipperary to Roscommon.

Read also: Take a look at the preformance of the 10 farmers participating in the Teagasc Green Acres calf to beef programme

1 Planning

When you buy your calves, you need to have a plan as to when these animals are going to be slaughtered. If not you will fall between two stools, with implications on housing facilities, slurry storage, not enough silage, mixed age groups creating issues for dosing, feeding concentrates for finishing and cash flow.

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Talk to your processor, know their requirements and ensure that all your animals meet these market specifications to achieve bonuses, quality assurance payments etc and attain numbers that you can supply at different times of the year to command the best price possible.

2 High beef output

Hundreds of farmers attended the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme open day on Christy Dowd’s farm in Ballinagare, Co Roscommon. Photo: Gerard O'Loughlin
Hundreds of farmers attended the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme open day on Christy Dowd’s farm in Ballinagare, Co Roscommon. Photo: Gerard O'Loughlin

This is the kilos of beef produced per hectare. It is a combination of a high stocking rate and excellent performance of each animal on the farm. As a target, 1250kgs/ha should be produced, this can be achieved from a stocking rate of two and a half livestock units per hectare and a performance of 500kgs per livestock unit. Decide on a production system and stocking rate to suit your land type and housing facilities available.

In calf to beef systems these targets are very achievable and higher levels can be reached.

3 Excellent calf rearing

Source a good quality calf. Buying an earlier born calf (before March 17) will help increase output as these calves are generally from the cows with better fertility and performance. Also these early born calves will be weaned and at grass for a longer period in the first grazing season

Conor Greene's cattle gained 0.66kg per day over the winter housing period
Conor Greene's cattle gained 0.66kg per day over the winter housing period

Feed high levels of milk replacer — up to 750 grams per day increases growth rates to weaning. Ensure good hygiene at feeding and in the calf pen. Consistency is key in relation to feeding of the calf. Feed at the same time, rate and temperature each day to avoid stressing the young animal.

4 Appropriate calf rearing facilities

Calf housing should be fit for purpose. Ensure a clean, warm, dry, well ventilated shed for calf rearing. To ensure a dry bed have a one in twenty slope on the floor from back to front with a channel to remove seepage to an outside tank. Provide plenty of straw to be ensure that the calf is kept warm at all times especially in cold conditions currently seen. Good ventilation removes bugs, respiration, moisture, smells and reduces the risk of disease and sick calves.

5 Animal health plan

Having a health plan in place in conjunction with your vet is essential. With calves coming from numerous sources, having a vaccination programme in place is critical. The top performers vaccinate for pneumonia and IBR, using the two shot Bovipast RSP programme for pneumonia and the  Bovilis IBR marker Live intranasally for IBR.

Pat Bowen in the new calf shed on his farm at Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny.
Pat Bowen in the new calf shed on his farm at Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny.

Booster pneumonia and IBR are then given at the correct stages throughout the lifetime of the animal.

A strategic dosing regime needs to be planned to control, worms, fluke, lice etc throughout the grazing season and during housing.

6 Soil fertility

In order to produce high output a lot of gain from grazed grass is required in the system. To ensure enough high quality grass is available, soil fertility needs to be at its optimum. Ensure to correct the lime status of the soil firstly and then correct P and K levels to index 3.

Slurry and farmyard manure should be targeted at low index fields and the remainder corrected with compound fertilisers.

7 Grassland management

Having a paddock system in place to supply quality leafy grass at all times, thereby maximising weight gain from grass is essential. Target to have at least 240 days grazing in year two. To achieve this target animals need to be out early in the spring, this will require excellent management in the autumn where paddocks are closed up early to ensure a supply of grass in the spring.

8 High quality silage

This is critical in achieving the target average daily gain of 0.6kgs+ over the winter period. All silage should be greater than 70pc DMD to help reduce the concentrate level required to meet daily gains. The difference in feeding 100 weanlings over a 140 day winter could be €7,000 or €70 per head between a 62pc and 72pc DMD silage.

9 Regular weighing

At a minimum animals should be weighed at turn out, mid-season and at housing. Poor performing animals can be detected and a remedial action put in place. 

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