Kilkenny farmer's switch from sucklers to rearing 180 calves to beef

Pat Bowden will host a Teagasc Green Acres event on his farm in Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny later this month
Pat Bowden will host a Teagasc Green Acres event on his farm in Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny later this month

Gordan Peppard

Pat Bowden and his family will host a Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef farm walk on their farm near Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny on Wednesday, March 21 starting at 11am.

The event will focus on Pat's system of production, calf rearing and health, spring grassland management and financial performance.

Prior to joining the Teagasc Green Acres calf to beef programme, the Bowdens ran a suckler to beef farm.

A few years ago they started rearing some Friesian bull calves to increase stocking rate and output. These bulls were castrated and sold as steers between 26 and 30 months of age.

Having built up the numbers of calves reared to approx 70 in 2014, Pat decided to reduce down the number of suckler cows and concentrate more on the dairy calf to beef enterprise.

Calves are bought in at two to four weeks of age and reared on milk replacer, straw, fresh water plus concentrate for the first ten weeks and then go to grass for their first grazing season receiving one kg of concentrate.

They are housed in mid to late November and fed silage and concentrates. Level of concentrate supplementation was based on the quality of the silage.

The Friesian steers are stored over the first winter with a target average daily gain of 0.6kgs per day.

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Following a second year at grass the steers are housed for the second winter. The heaviest group are penned together and are built up to six kgs of concentrates for finishing out of the shed at two years of age. The remaining steers are turned out to grass from their third grazing season where they are slaughtered from May to August off grass and four to five kgs of concentrate as they become fit.

The plan for Pat over the course of the Teagasc Green Acres programme was to drive output on the farm and sell more kilos of beef per hectare by utilising more grass.

Grassland plan

In order to do this Pat has had to make a few adjustments to his farming practices.

A grassland plan has been put in place where Pat will make better use of grazed grass through the introduction of a paddock system, grass measuring, maintaining soil fertility levels, getting cattle out earlier and also introducing a reseeding programme.

The numbers of calves reared on the farm has increased to approx 180 over past year. As accommodation on the farm was limited, Pat built a dedicated calf rearing unit in the spring of 2017 to house 100 calves.

In order to maximise this shed, Pat now rears 80 - 100 calves in the autumn and 100 calves in the spring.

This shed has greatly reduced the labour required in rearing a large number of calves.

Calves are purchased as early as possible in February/March so that a strong calf will go to grass in the first season, this will allow more of the steers to be slaughtered in the May/June period at the traditionally higher beef price.

Due to the increasing number of calves to be reared a comprehensive animal health plan has been put in place in conjunction with his local vet, focusing on a good vaccination programme so that diseases are curtailed.

There will be excellent information available on the day with personnel available from MSD Animal Health, Volac, Grassland Agro, Liffey Mills, Drummond Ltd and Teagasc available to answer queries in relation to calf to beef systems. Event will be signposted from Freshford and Ballyragget.

This farm walk is a DAFM approved KT event and all are welcome to attend.

Indo Farming

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