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Efficiency is the key to making money in beef


Pierce Kelly from Teagasc addresses the crowd at last week's Green Acres Calf to Beef event on Joe Farrell's holding in Castledermot, Co Kildare

Pierce Kelly from Teagasc addresses the crowd at last week's Green Acres Calf to Beef event on Joe Farrell's holding in Castledermot, Co Kildare

Pierce Kelly from Teagasc addresses the crowd at last week's Green Acres Calf to Beef event on Joe Farrell's holding in Castledermot, Co Kildare

While the nice dry weather in April was great for letting off cattle, I must admit that it is beginning to cause me a few headaches regarding re-growth.

With this in mind I have been letting out my cattle very much on a phased but slightly delayed basis.

While a few showers are welcome the recent drop in temperature and night frosts have not helped the situation and as my farm doesn't respond very well to extended periods of dry weather, quite a challenging situation could develop if things don't improve.

While dry weather is always a great bonus for catching up on work, a fairly constant supply of moisture to keep the grass growing, remains critical to the success or otherwise of my grass-fed beef enterprise.

Luckily I got the fertiliser spread on my silage ground in late March before the weather got too dry and with the help of the slurry spread in February these fields are coming on very well now.

Once again I did not graze these fields which may be seen as a mistake by some but I find that old-pasture like mine needs all the help they can get to be ready for cutting in mid to late May.

I continue to use a paddock system for grazing and I find it to be a very useful management tool. The main advantage of course is that it allows me to adjust my grazing patterns in line with grass supply without incurring any major increases in expensive inputs.

A critical part of my farming jigsaw is of course getting silage cut early. As well as helping to optimise its quality' it fits in very nicely with having extra aftergrass available during the poorer mid-summer growing period.

I should mention that I have been extremely lucky over the past two years, in so far as rain supply has been sufficient without being excessive thus ensuring that grass growth has been very good.

This contributed in no small way to the good weight gains achieved by my Friesian cattle last year.

I dropped into the local mart last week and I must say that I admire the courage and bravery of the people out buying cattle at the moment.

In spite of all the doom and dire predictions surrounding the sector, record prices appear the be the norm. I wish these people the best of luck, but I must say that I feel extremely fortunate to have bought-in all my store cattle last autumn. Something we hear more and more about recently is how to increase our profit from beef farming.

My experience over the years suggests that making money from beef is all about farming in an efficient manner rather than rushing headlong into spending more money to increase output.

Even on a grass-only system like mine, grass still costs a lot of money to produce. In the past I have learned to my cost that there is no guarantee that spending thousands of Euros producing extra grass will increase my net profit. In fact I have found that more often than not the opposite can be the case.

The reality is that currently and historically, beef production is a notoriously low-margin enterprise where no two years are the same.

Achieving the delicate and critically important balance between money spent on inputs and (net) profit earned is a hugely intricate balancing act which more often than not, is very difficult to achieve.

At the moment my cattle are doing quite well in spite of the cold dry weather, with the last few only leaving the shed last week.

The good 'condition' they were in when bought-in as stores appears to have carried-over to the spring and they are now thriving well on the spring grass.

In relation to the seven very plain poor cattle I bought last October the best I can say at the moment is that they survived the winter and continue to grow taller and taller. It really will be a huge challenge to get them finished this summer but as I have already said, that is what farming is all about.

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The only consolation is that they have that €150 head start on the rest of my cattle.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary

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