Robin Talbot: 'Farmers need to be wary of the hype surrounding new dairy beef schemes'

Robin Talbot pictured on the family farm in Ballacolla, Co Laois is a lifelong suckler farmer. Photo: Alf Harvey
Robin Talbot pictured on the family farm in Ballacolla, Co Laois is a lifelong suckler farmer. Photo: Alf Harvey
Stock photo.

Robin Talbot

I read with interest some results that came out of the Gene Ireland test centre in Tully on dairy-bred bulls.

The headline was, "average daily gain 1.7kg, with a 52pc killout".

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That sounds impressive … but it doesn't tell the whole story.

There were no costings with this performance.

The headline could equally have read, "bulls gaining 1.7kg/day are losing minimum 40 cent day."

What I mean by that is we are told the bulls were consuming 14.18kg feed per day on a dry matter basis. I assume this means they were eating in the region of 12kg ration. So a ballpark figure for their daily diet, given the current price of beef ration of around €280/tonne, is roughly €3.40 /day.

The progeny were sired by 18 different sires across three different breeds - Holstein Friesian (HO), Montbeliarde (MO) and Jersey (JE). The average carcass weight at slaughter was 330kg, their average age was 23.8 months. 11 graded R, 19 were Os.

On the other side of the equation, taking their age into account, it would be reasonable to suggest that they were sold for €3.40/kg.

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With an average daily weight gain of 1.7kg and a killout of 52pc, they increased in value throughout their finishing period by €3/day.

That is a loss of 40 cent per head per day on feed alone.

So, if a farmer was to replicate the exercise, for the 30 bulls in that particular trial, he would be over €1,000 worse off on feed alone at the end than at the start.

As farmers and business people, we need to be careful not to get swept away by the current wave of interest in dairy calf-to-beef and do our own sums before we go down that road.

Meanwhile, we have plenty of grass in front of the cows and calves. In reality, some of the paddocks have got too strong. Best practice would tell us that they should be taken out for bales but I think it's slightly different with an autumn calving herd.

I would have no issue if the grass got a little tight in front of the cows with their heifer calves but it's a totally different ballgame with those raising bull calves.

At this particular point in their life, they are still with the cows and also hormones are starting to kick in with some of them, so I think it is very important to keep a volume of grass in front of them.

If they get a little bit tight on grass, they will start a fight and mess and follow one another. If they start fighting with one another, they are certainly not thriving.

So we resist the temptation to take any paddock out of their rotation.

We will wean them towards the end of the month. Once the cows are removed, most of that anti-social messing stops.

At that stage, it is important that the grass in front of them is high quality to ensure continuity of thrive and to optimise weight gain.

At the moment, they look well on target to be turned 500kg at a year.

At that time, we will have to take a decision about what route we will go with them. Last year's crop have certainly left a sour taste.

All calves will get an injection in the coming weeks for hoose and worms.

We used EID tags in the calves this year. So we now have our Kingswood Herd programme fully integrated with our scales.

My clipboard and pencil is being retired!

All the grazing ground has got a total of 4cwt of 18-6-12 in two applications. From here on in, it will just get straight Nitrogen. In light of what grass is around at the moment, we will hold off on spreading any for the moment.

We usually take our first cut silage in two goes; first one, in the middle of May and another towards the end of May.

But this year we will take just one cut towards the end of the month. That's because last year's early cut, which analysed over 80 DMD is thankfully still in the pit unopened.

Winter crops

We will also take eight acres of first cut in the second half of June. All we want from this cut is bulk, as it will be used to feed the cows for a few weeks before calving.

The winter crops are looking well at the moment and have all got their final applications of fertiliser.

The final spray will go on the barley in the next few weeks. Considering the way the beef went this spring, this is a year that we really need the tillage crops to perform well.

Most of the sheds have been cleaned out at this stage and we need to get struck into some routine maintenance, especially cleaning the gutters around the straw bedded sheds.

One of the downsides of using a straw blower to bed the cattle is that it always leads to film of chaff and some grain - which will invariably sprout in the gutters. It gives a whole new meaning to, "green shoots".

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

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