Farm Ireland

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Beefing up profits - More efficient grazing management can deliver big results on finishing cattle


Meadhbh Freaney from Teagasc Clonmel; vet Tommy Heffernan; Joe Hand, Teagasc Thurles and Terry Carroll, Teagasc Kilkenny, at the suckler and beef event in Kildalton Agricutural College. Photo: O'Gorman Photography.
Meadhbh Freaney from Teagasc Clonmel; vet Tommy Heffernan; Joe Hand, Teagasc Thurles and Terry Carroll, Teagasc Kilkenny, at the suckler and beef event in Kildalton Agricutural College. Photo: O'Gorman Photography.

Martin Ryan

Shortening the duration on paddocks and increasing the number of grazings per annum can significantly boost profits on finishing beef cattle on the majority of farms.

That was the key message of the day from Pearse Kelly, Teagasc drystock advisor, at the Teagasc suckler and beef event in Kildalton College, Co Kilkenny.

Farmers should aim for 10 grazings from each paddock in the season - close to double the norm on many beef units, according to Mr Kelly, who delivered a joint presentation with Terry Carroll, Teagasc business and technology advisor.

"If you can work to move the stock on after three days and hope to get back again in three weeks there is some hope of achieving at least eight grazings in the season, whatever about the target of 10," said Mr Kelly.

"At least it will bring some farms up by two grazings from the six that some of them are at currently.


"Graze intensively, move on, allow for regrowth and that cycle of management should get you improved return.

"A third of an increase would be a massive improvement in performance in beef production."

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The Teagasc advisors suggested an early April target date for getting stock out to pasture and continuing the grazing season close to the end of October.

This can help deliver 10 grazings at three week intervals on each paddock.

Continental bull system shows highest returns

Finishing quality continental bulls for beef at 16 months was the most profitable system at Kildalton College in the 2016-17 season.

Beef technician John O'Connor, who runs the beef unit at the college, outlined four systems used during the season.

Continental bull beef slaughtered at 16 months gave the highest return, showing a net margin of €362/hd for animals which were slaughtered in May at an average of €4.40kg for 435kg carcase with 91pc U grade and 9pc E grade.

Mr O'Connor stressed with bull beef it is very important to watch the weight to avoid being cut for being over target weight.

He added: "Failing to achieve the right fat store could land you in a lot of trouble on returns.

"You have to know what you are doing and you have to be able to take advice to ensure that the requirements are met. Make sure that you don't put too much into animals that won't meet one spec and are overdone for another spec."

The least profitable system was 24-month suckler finishing steers, which left a margin of €23hd for the spring-finished animals slaughtered at an average carcase weight of 397kg and sold for €4.12/kg, with 16pc classified as E grade, 68pc U grade and 16pc R grade.

Weanlings were purchased in September 2015 at 260kg and finished in February 2017 at live weight of 671kg. Each animal received 8 tonnes silage over two winters and were fed 0.9t of concentrates to finishing.


The system which showed the second highest return at €161/hd was 24-month calf to beef for February finishing, with 34pc grading O and 66pc grading P at slaughter.

The purchase cost of calves was put at €220/hd with 8.2t of silage and 0.9t of concentrates fed. The animals were slaughtered at 656kg liveweight and a carcase weight of 326kg at an average price of €3.60/kg.

The second lowest return was for 20-month heifer beef for autumn finishing, which left a margin of €53hd, with 30pc U grade and the remainder R grade.

The weanlings were costed in at €750 for 300kg and slaughtered at 576kg, giving a carcase weight of 323kg. They were fed 4.5t of silage and 0.6t of concentrate. Minimal amounts for fixed costs were included in the calculations for each system.

Some farmers may be able to reduce the cost of some of the inputs such as straw, veterinary bills and transport, which had been factored in at the average for producers, said Mr O'Connor.

"Potentially this is the package of costings that you can be coming up against if you engage in the system. Look at what your actual costs are and see can you trim 15pc off because you are not buying in straw; because you are not buying in the animals; or you are capable of reducing other costs to the bone."

'This is a benchmark to work off on trimming costs'

"We are not saying that this is the best that can be done, but we are advising beef farmers that it is a benchmark for them to work off and see where they could trim off a bit of cost, and get a better performance."

That was the key message from Joe Day, Teagasc Kildalton, at last week's suckler and beef event.

"Stand back and look at what we are doing and measure it against your own and see is there a place for improvement in your system."

Kildalton College carries a 60-cow suckler herd, with progeny finished to beef under four different systems as well as 180 ewes, on the drystock side.

Herd replacements are bred by mating the top half of the cows to five star maternal AI bulls, with some bought-in Limousin x Friesian heifers to increase milk.

There is a calving interval of 277 days. Stocking rate on the farm is 2.75 LU/ha achieving a gross output of €2,422/ha and a net margin of €1,413/ha.

Emphasis is placed on good management at weaning time. Minimising stress for both cow and calf is a priority. Castration and dehorning are avoided within four weeks of weaning.

Meal or creep grazing is introduced within two weeks of weaning at 2kg/day.

Liveweight gains

Weaned males on 2kg of meal/day can have daily liveweight gains of 1.3-1.4kg/day, while heifers can add 1.2-1.35 daily gain on 1.5kg/day meal.

Fertiliser application on the farm is 175kg N/ha and 5000 gls (56 cubic metres) slurry/acre.

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All stock are housed by mid-November and the target turn-out date is mid-February.

Steers being finished off grass are fed 4-5kg centratrate for six to eight weeks prior to slaughter.

Stores for indoor finishing are fed 1-2kg for three weeks prior to housing.

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