Farm Ireland

Monday 11 December 2017

'Beef grid is giving suckler sector a lifeline'

Farmers move their cattle from the lowlands and valleys of Noughval, Co Clare, up to their traditional winter grazing grounds on the Burren's limestone uplands
Farmers move their cattle from the lowlands and valleys of Noughval, Co Clare, up to their traditional winter grazing grounds on the Burren's limestone uplands

Robin Talbot

One thing which makes me angry is that when the price of beef drops, it always seems to bring out the opportunists who have a go at the grid.

I know the grid is not everybody's cup of tea but it was designed and built on science and we can't just pick and choose the science that suits us.

Its probably a bit like the basic payment scheme; everybody wants it capped, at just above the level they are getting.

In actual fact, if you were to follow the science, there is a school of thought that suggests the gap between grades should be extended to 8c/kg, rather than the present 6c/kg.

The grid is probably the only thing that is keeping suckler farmers who finish their own cattle in business at the moment. It is the only way we have of adding value to what we produce.

We turned the stock bulls out with the cows on October 20. Hopefully that will see calving commence around August 1, 2017.

I don't see a lot of cows bulling but its obvious from the appearance of the stock bulls that they are extremely busy under cover of darkness. Its early days yet but hopefully all is going well in that department.

We have just introduced the indoor diet to the cows outside as they are coming close to finishing their last round of grazing and will all be brought into the sheds, even though ground conditions are still almost perfect.

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But, since this is our breeding season, its important that the cows are kept on a good plane of nutrition and I think November grass can't do this on its own, regardless of underfoot or overhead conditions.

The indoor diet consists of good first cut silage, straw, a barley/oats mix plus a good dairy mineral.

All the calves that are due their booster of Bovipast will get it before they come into the shed.

In our system of autumn calving, its far more important to get out as early as we can in the spring rather than staying out late in the autumn.

The only other animals we have at grass at the moment, apart from breeding stock, are the 16-month-old beef heifers, i.e. last year's calves.

As is our norm, we will sell these as beef out of the shed next spring, so it is important they are kept thriving and gaining weight.

D-Day is fast approaching for the sale of the first of our under 16-month beef bulls.

Once the first few go to the factory it will give us a better idea on how the rest of them are going to perform as regards weight and fat score.

I always find it very difficult to judge stock that I am looking at every day. Some days I think they are thriving very well, other days I am not so sure.

The only thing which is clear is they are going to be back €100-120/hd on last year's stock, which is extremely disappointing considering that we have more or less the same cost of production.

A lot of the grazing area has been closed up at this stage and has greened up nicely.

A couple of fields of new grass that we had grazed still had a little bit of cover left on them and, rather than put too much pressure on the suckler cows with calves to graze them out, we took the decision to clean them off with the disc mower.

With the recent mild weather, there is a nice bit of regrowth back on them and hopefully that augurs well for an early bite in the spring.

We got our winter barley sowed in almost perfect conditions. We sowed Tower and Infinity, at 11st/ac.

It emerged quite quickly and, with the recent mild weather, the fields are now completely green and there looks to be an excellent establishment of plants.

So we need to be vigilant now for slug damage and we will certainly spray it for aphids in a couple of weeks' time.

If the ground conditions remain good, we will probably spread some lime. We try and spread some area of the farm every autumn.

We took soil samples off the entire farm last year and, while we are not too bad for lime, I prefer to adopt the little-and-often attitude .

So we have a list of fields that need lime; the ones that need the most get it first and we will work down the list. By the time we finish, it will probably be time to sample and start over again!

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann in Ballacolla, Co. Laois.

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