Top farmer on the two things needed to make beef farming profitable

Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

The winner of the grassland farmer of the year in 2017, says “you need two things to make beef farming profitable; good grassland management and excellent breeding”.

Ger Dineen, farms 50 hectares in west Cork with his wife Gobnait and four children. The family farm 60 suckler cows and finish bulls under 16 months with surplus heifers being sold for breeding.

“AI is carried out with all my cows, which I do myself, and keep 20pc for replacements” said the Kilnamartrya native.

“Having a high replacement ratio, allows me to have a good choice of animals, eliminate older cows and make genetic gains,” said Ger.

“There is a huge potential to breed better animals,” said Ger. “To breed the best, you have to use the best,” said Ger who used 12 sires using AI this year. He said that getting good genetics and driving the performance of the herd is the reason he uses maternal bulls.

“All cows and heifers are bred to high index maternal sires. I am using Simmental, Saler, Angus, Limousin and this year, Shorthorn” said Ger.

The West Cork farmer said he uses the Fleckvieh and Simmental for more milk. This year, 80pc of the herd held after the first round of AI.

Ger produced 32t of live weight last year, which is double the national average according to Teagasc. This year’s U16 month bulls averaged 463kg carcass weight, U= grade at an average of 15.5 months. The average price Ger received was €2,079 for his bulls.

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The gross output for the farm was €2,519/ha and fixed costs accumulated to €568/ha.

Of the 50-hectare farmed, some 12 hectares of this is dedicated to forestry on the poorer ground and 32 adjusted hectares of grassland. Ger said his farm is 2/3 dry ground 1/3 heavy ground.

“My farm has 32 paddocks, roughly a hectare each in size,” said Ger. He said the more paddocks you have the more control you have over your grass. “I also have roadways leading to each paddock and every year I’m putting in more roadways,” he said.

Grassland management

Over the past few year grassland management has become a key driver of the business with emphasis being put on prolonging the grazing season, reducing feed costs and increasing animal performance as a means of increasing output and profitability.

After an exceptionally hard spring, Ger said farmers will realise just how important grass is in the diet with ration bills being extremely dear this year. It cost €1,200 for every week that Ger’s herd was housed this winter.

“It’s easy to grow grass but to graze to 4cm is the hard part,” said Ger. “It was a tough year this spring to do that” he said. “I have lots of ways to do this but they are all time consuming,” he said.

“The way I look at is, it costs me around €1,200 a week to keep my cattle inside. If I can get them out earlier and keep them out longer it will pay off,” Ger said.

Growing an average of 14t DM per hectare, Ger was awarded the Beef Grassland Farmer of the Year in 2017. Ger walks the farm and measures his grass every week and uploads it to PastureBase Ireland.

“On PastureBase you can see the paddocks that are doing well and the ones that are performing poorly,” said Ger.

Last year, Ger’s paddocks ranged from 8-18t per hectare. “At €105/t for every additional tonne of grass utilised, this means that the 8t paddock was producing €840 of grass per hectare and the 18t is producing €1,890 per hectare. That’s a difference of €1,050,” said Ger.

He also said that the 8t paddocks on his farm are OK for lime, P and K but that they have cold and peaty ground.

Ger said he cut a lot of round bales of silage to keep grass in good condition. “Last year, I cut about five bales per acre, most people think this is crazy but I feed the bales to the finishing bulls as they are around 75pc plus DMD,” said Ger. “These bales save me around 1t of ration per bull,” he said.

“Before I used the bales, I fed 2.5t of ration. Now I feed, 1.5t/hd at €250/t for ration which is worth €7,500 for 30 bulls,” said Ger.

The West Cork farmer said he makes between 20 and 400 bales every year keeping grazing paddocks in good condition.

“If a paddock is getting strong I will take it out if I have plenty of grass”. This is where the PastureBase package comes in, it will tell you how much grass you have on the farm at all times.

The suckler cows are separated from the calves 10 days before AI starts to get them cycling. The cows come in from the paddocks in the morning and evening to the calves.

“What I have found in bad weather is by letting the paddock wire open to the roadway, the cows are then waiting on the roadway to come into the calves,” said Ger. “This way there is a lot less damage done to the paddock,” he said.

Young Bull Production

When the cows and calves are grazing together all the wires in the paddocks are raised so the calves graze ahead of the cows. Having no creep feeder, Ger’s calves average 1.3kg a day weight gain for the heifers and 1.5kg for the males.

“Every 0.1kg weight gain is worth €100 to me,” said Ger.

“When you are finishing bulls, you should try and get them as heavy as you can before weaning them. Bulls at grass are costing 30 cent a day, inside they are costing €3, that’s a hug saving,” said Ger.

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