Barry Stratford was part of the winning team that turned a €600-per-head profit in the Angus beef finishing project for secondary schools, reports Martin Ryan
The key to profitable beef production using Angus cross offspring from the dairy herd lies in effective cost control and bonus payments, according to young farmer Barry Stratford.
The Leaving Cert student, who is planning to study agricultural science before returning to the family dairy farm near Cavan town, says: "There is money in beef if the costs are kept low and you qualify for the bonus payments."
While the profits could not match the return from milk, he believes that beef can have a place on dairy farms as a second enterprise.
Barry is one of a team of five students who undertook a project where they finished Angus cross animals from the dairy herd to carcase weights of up to 369kg at under 21 months.
"It was a good experience and we all learned a lot from it on how important keeping the input costs down in beef production is," he says. "I suppose it was also an exercise in connecting the whole dairy and beef industry together and learning how important it is that they co-operate.
"We made a profit of €3,000 (equivalent to €600/head) for keeping them for 14 months after we got them for free at six months old."
In addition, the team qualified for an award of €2,000 towards their future education after winning the Irish Angus Certified Beef Schools Competition 2018 for Transition Year students nationwide.
All five members of the Royal School, Cavan team -Barry, Rachel Alexander, Sophie Reilly, Lloyd Hastings and Kevin McNally - come from farming families in the area.
Barry, Lloyd and Sophie are planning to go on to study Agricultural Science.
Following a detailed submission and interview process, six teams were selected to each receive five six-month old Angus calves before the end of 2018.
The Cavan team's theme for the academic section of the competition was: "The Value of Irish Angus as a Production System".
They interviewed local farmers on their reasons for keeping the breed, promoting Angus at the Taste of Cavan food festival.
They also looked at mental health issues among farmers and organised a 'Walk in my Wellies' fundraising event in their school for Pieta House.
They found that while beef production in Co Cavan is predominantly part-time on low-to medium-quality land, there is a passion among the farmers for beef.
Hobby versus livelihood
While for many of the land owners, livestock production is effectively more of a hobby than a livelihood because of the low income from the sector, there is a strong desire among the farmers to take care of the land, the animals and the environment.
"The students passionately explained the opportunities of the Angus breed within their area," said the competition judges.
"Their investment within the community over the course of the competition has led many Cavan farmers to re-assess their farming operations.
The other finalists in the competition were: St Joseph's Mercy, Navan; St Ita's, Drogheda; Colaiste Treasa, Kanturk; Mary Immaculate, Lisdoonvarna; and Roscommon Community College, Lisnamult.
The return for the Royal School, Cavan team's five Angus left an average of €600 after costs for pasture, meal and routine dosing etc were deducted, but the breed bonus at slaughter of 40c/kg was vital to the profitable outcome, explains Barry Stratford.
"Four of the animals also qualified for the QA bonus of 20c/kg and it was the combined bonus payments that made all the difference for us in the end," he says, underlining that they were being slaughtered in one of the most difficult seasons for beef prices.
"Without it there would have been some profit in it, but it would have been tight.
"Our plan was to keep the input costs as low as possible because with the price of beef we realised how important it is to control the costs.
"They averaged 0.9kg live weight gain per day. The three bullocks averaged 1kg per day and the heifers averaged 0.83kg per day. They performed well for us off the grass," says Barry about the mainly grass-based system used.
The animals were slaughtered at the ABP plant at Clones at 20-21 months of age. The best performer was an R+4= steer, which weighed 368kg at slaughter and realised €1,516.
The average for the five worked out at 312kg carcase weight and a price of €1,197 before deductions, with one of the animals not qualifying for the breed bonus and getting a reduced in-spec bonus.
The team received the three male and two female six-month old Angus cross-breds from a dairy herd and arranged for them to be kept on one of the family farms, paying the farmer €1/head/day for pasture for out-wintering.
They stock were fed 2kg head/day meal during outwintering, and for a 60-day period prior to slaughter the meal feeding was increased from 2kg head/day to 5kg head/day.