Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Opinion: Beef farmers pay a high price for impact of dairy expansion

Farmers voice: John Joyce farms at Carrigahorrig, Co Tipperary

John Joyce

John Joyce

As we head into the winter it is very disappointing to see how beef prices have collapsed. We are now well into the third month of low prices after Brexit, with little talk on how to counteract this problem.

Everything is been blamed on the fluctuation of the sterling currency and we know that 50pc of the beef that we export is sold to the UK, but that means that 50pc of beef is traded in areas with non sterling markets.

There is also the additional burden of he huge weekly kills of over 35,000hd, with the added numbers coming mainly from the dairy industry.

During the expansion of the dairy industry over the last two years very little consideration was given to the impact this would have on the beef industry.

With excess of 2m calves due to be born on both dairy and suckler farms next spring, now is the time to take action because the increased numbers are a real worry for beef producers.

Firstly, we need to increase export numbers of dairy-bred calves. The marts could play a huge role in this by setting up agreements with exporters in organising collection centres and sourcing calves at realistic prices. Also we could have a bobby calf system with a high welfare standard to dispose of the Jersey cross calf even if such a move has to be subsidised.

If the Brexit issue doesn't improve more markets will need to be sourced sooner rather than later.

On the sheep side, all is quite with ewes approaching mid pregnancy and the rams just mopping up a few repeats.

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The 32 remaining lambs are getting meal on grass, but will take a few more weeks to finish.

On the farm

Last weekend saw all the remaining cattle housed after one of the better autumns around this area to finish the grazing season. All grass has been grazed off nicely with no damage to the land.

 One field was unsuitable to graze due to a fencing issue so we zero grazed it before the heavy rain last week, I never tried this before but it worked real well, except there was a bit of work involved with it. The grass was transported back to one of the passage of the slatted shed on a daily bases.

The cattle eat everything except the dead leaves that had fallen from the trees and were lying on the grass. One downside was that if too much grass was cut if started to heat on the second day.

Another plus of not having to house too early is that the slurry tanks remain low well into the New Year.

All the calves are being weaned at housing, but bearing in mind that this is a very stressful time for the weanlings - this is their first winter and they are not used to the surrounding of the sheds - I am using the same technology I have used in previous years.

All the cows and calves are housed in the same shed to start with and are penned adjacent to each other across the passage before been moved to different sheds. This year I have gone a step further and penned them every second pen.

The weanling tends to be remarkably quiet once they get used to the silage and meal; some even suckle through the gate for a few days.

Even the cows tend to be less vocal once they can see the calf - everybody wins, particularly me. These weanlings will receive a high level of observation over the next few weeks and those that seem off form will be treated immediately.

Indo Farming