Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

Why young bull beef finishing system is delivering big results for farmers

Pictured with his junior champion Belgium Blue bull at Bandon show was Daniel O'Donovan from Dunmanway, Co Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle
Pictured with his junior champion Belgium Blue bull at Bandon show was Daniel O'Donovan from Dunmanway, Co Cork. Photo: Denis Boyle

Gerry Giggins

Spring-born bulls from 2016 that are finished under 16 months of age are currently in peak supply to the meat plants and appear to be met by a good demand.

Bull beef finishing has undergone a rollercoaster ride in the 20 years since it became a prominent part of our beef production systems.

The under-16 month system, in particular, has had its fair share of detractors.

The perception that it would be impossible to achieve appropriate fat scores and sufficient carcass weights at such a young age was widespread.

At two extremes, the top E and U grade, continental bred cattle and the black and white dairy bull were particularly viewed as being impossible to meet the required market specs.

While the 'industry' has been telling farmers that the demand for bull beef from Ireland is limited, farmers have had to focus on the profitability of their enterprises and on a lot of beef farms under 16 month bull production is topping the profitability charts.

In 2016 nearly 200,000 young bulls were slaughtered in Ireland, accounting for approximately 20pc of finished male cattle.

Anyone that regularly reads Robin Talbot's pieces on these pages will learn that a carcass weight of 400kg+ and fat scores of 2+/3s are attainable, even where Belgian Blue predominates in the breed mix.

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While this system is input heavy, it affords home bred or purchased weanling animals to be brought to slaughter at a much younger age.

This in turn obviously can allow for an increase in overall farm stocking rate, a quicker return on investment and better use of farm buildings.

To quote Robin, the secret to success in under 16 month bull production is to get sufficient milk and plenty high quality grass into the calves pre and post weaning.

Given the extremely tight timeframe, it is essential that there are no performance or health setbacks to the animal. An appropriate finishing feed will maximise the genetic potential of the animal while not compromising performance and reduce the risks of digestive upsets.

2017 born dairy-bred bull calves for the whole part are now weaned and at grass.

If these animals are to be finished under 16 months of age, they will require an extremely well managed pasture grazing for the remainder of the summer.

Housing of these animals will generally take place a month to six weeks earlier than the traditional housing date. These animals will be finished in early summer 2018, therefore a target housing weight of at least 250kg should be the aim.

With current grass growth rates and quality, achieving a live weight gain of 1kg/ day shouldn't be an issue.

If grass availability becomes an issue or quality deteriorates, then supplementation with concentrates will be required to meet these target growth rates.

Over the past few days, I, along with my fellow judges, Joe Burke of Bord Bia and Tom Dunne, 2016 Farmer of the Year, completed the very pleasurable task of judging the beef section of the Zurich Farm Insurance Farming Independent Farmer of the Year awards. As always, the standard of entries was exceptionally high. All three finalists were farming suckler enterprises, which gives great hope for the future of the sector.

With the recent rain and mild temperatures, the countryside looked resplendent.

There is no better sight than an Irish suckler beef herd of cows and calves grazing lush green grass in the month of May, turning this valuable resource into high quality beef. This image can be easily ­marketed both to Irish consumers and to international markets.

Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

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