Extra weight gain may be needed to compensate for drop in beef prices

John Heney

AS autumn progresses, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge as to how my cattle are doing this year.

Since my last article I have sold a few more loads of cattle. Carcase weights and fat scores continue to impress with plenty of 4s appearing on the kill sheet. Unfortunately, after an initial high in the grading quality of my cattle, there has been an recent turnaround with P grades now far more prevalent.

I have decided to stop selling for a week or two in the hope that the extra weight gain might compensate somewhat for the unfortunate drop in recent factory prices.

With the store trade up well on last year it looks like there will be little scope for any form of capital investment on my farm this year.

In hindsight I was probably very lucky to have replaced my slats last summer.

As usual the only certainty in the cattle business is that there is no certainty.

Who would have predicted that the UK would be leaving the EU in 2019 or indeed foreseen the difficulties Brexit is already causing Irish farmers?

The scenario I fear most is that Brexit could send the UK economy into a deep recession which would surely deny us the relatively lucrative market we have enjoyed since EU accession.

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On a practical farming note, I was delighted to get the opportunity to attend an Open Day at the Teagasc College in Kildalton recently.

I was attracted to this event by the fact that beef produced from dairy sourced steers was included in the programme.

All of the speakers adopted a refreshingly practical approach with the main emphasis now being placed on maximising grass production and its efficient use.

We heard that this was achieved principally by ensuring correct lime levels and the utilisation of a six to eight paddocks grazing systems.

The importance of starting to close off paddocks by October 10 to ensure that stock can be put back out to grass by mid February was also highlighted.

Particular emphasis was placed on resisting the obvious temptation of grazing this nice fresh grass in November and December.

Even though it was late summer before I converted my existing paddock system into eight divisions, it appears to be working out well.

I may not have got it quite right yet, but changing cattle every four days appears to be what works best for me at the moment.

Thankfully my cattle seem to be very content with this arrangement showing little signs of unease coming up to changing dates.

The relatively inexpensive nature of changing to this grazing system was the major attraction for me.

Of course, next year will prove be the real test. If I can get some cattle out on grass by mid February, it will be a huge bonus and could turn around my whole system with cattle finishing much earlier.


However as I use virtually no fertiliser for grazing, this could pose quite a challenge particularly when it comes to the second round of grazing around April 1 - only time will tell.

Another thing which I notice over recent years is the fascination around getting cattle finished at 24 months.

I did go down this road during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 when I was obliged to buy weanling bullocks to get back on track after the restrictions on cattle movements.

Using very little feed during the first winter and just grass after that, I got these weanlings into a very credible 500kg at 18 months.

This presented me with the dilemma of whether to finish them on concentrates and silage in the shed or just "store" them for finishing the following summer.

The outcome was that I quickly reverted back to my old system of buying-in 400kg to 420kg stores in the autumn, finding it a far simpler system and one that I was more experienced in operating.

As I have already mentioned store prices appear well up on last year.

The ones I have bought in already appear to be of better quality than last year's cattle however I would prefer if they were a bit heavier.

Last year's stores averaged around 425kg when bought-in but so far this year my average is only slightly above 400kg. I hope to increase this average as the autumn goes on but then you can only buy what comes into the ring.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary

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