Fine margins: How this Kilkenny calf to beef farmer tripled his margins
Hitting a series of health, weight gain and grass management targets hold the key to successful results
There is still a margin to be made in calf to beef systems, but planning and efficient operations remain key as Pat Bowden can testify. It has been a hectic three years for the Kilkenny farmer, who has switched over from sucklers to rearing Friesian steers from the dairy herds under the guidance of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme.
Key measures put in place on the holding included improving grazing infrastructure on the 105ha split farm with a water and paddock system, grass measuring and improving soil fertility. Alongside this, there was also a designated calf-rearing house erected on the farm in the spring of 2017.
It was the figures that caught the eye of many of the farmers on the farm at Lisdowney as Pat had a gross margin of €304/ha at the start of the programme in 2014. This trebled to €1,073 last year and the projected figure for 2019 is €1,145.
"In these calf to beef systems, make no mistake about it, there is a margin to be made if you can get the calf at a reasonable price," said Teagasc's head of drystock Pearse Kelly.
"The costs to get it finished are high per head so you have to bear in mind that you have to have the cashflow to get that calf from purchase through to finish at those high costs. We don't want people walking into this system saying 'Teagasc said there is loads of money to be made in calf to beef'."
The step-by-step approach that Pat has taken to grow his enterprise efficiently were emphasised.
Those considering entering calf to beef were urged to focus on calf rearing, quality silage and getting all the basics right.
"If you are not hitting all the key points at key stages in the lifetime of the animal and you are not hitting good grassland management and making good quality silage, then your costs are going to go up and your efficiencies will go down. Then it doesn't matter how many animals you buy as you are not going to make a margin," said Pearse.