Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

Better Farm Programme bull rearers show the way to go for greater beef profits

John Shirley

There was a lot of bull talk at last week's Irish Grassland Association (IGA) beef conference and farm visits. First up with bulls was Dermot O'Connor, Carlow, member of the Better Farm Programme.

He spoke of augmenting his suckler herd with a dairy bull calf-to-beef enterprise in his efforts to hit a gross margin of €1,000/ha.

He opted for dairy bulls rather than extra sucklers on the basis of the investment cost, higher budgeted return and personal preference.

Next up was winter finisher Eamonn Power from Clonmel. He has switched from steer finishing to finishing weanling suckler bulls. Even with bulls, Eamonn needs a beef price of 371c/kg (£1.32/lb) next spring to cover the dearer meals and dearer weanlings. His weanling price budget is set at about €1.80/kg liveweight. Belgian Blue weanlings are excluded.

Finally, there was the farm visit to the father and son team of John and Paul Duggan in Portlaw, Co Waterford. Here we saw choice export-quality suckled bulls. John Duggan is an agent for Dawn Meats but his own stock are more likely to be shipped live as weanling bulls and heifers.

Belgian Blue is the sire of choice for the Duggans. They are moving towards three-quarter Limousin dams, although it was interesting to see that most of the dams of the top calves were black Limousin-cross Friesians.

It's not a coincidence that these farmers are into bull production. The IGA seeks out the beef enterprises which are profitable. With their extra growth potential and efficiency, bulls offer a better chance of making profit from beef.

In the current Irish factory cattle kill, one male animal in five is a young bull. The trend towards rearing bulls on Irish farms is on the up.

Also Read

When it comes to marketing Irish beef, Bord Bia and the Irish export plants place the bulls behind steer beef. However, plants are resigned to having to handle more bulls.

Speaking at the IGA event, Paul Nolan, a senior executive with Dawn Meats, said his company was looking at the possibility of an extra 350,000 dairy-bred bulls coming on stream from a post-quota expansion of our dairy herd.

"Along with Teagasc in Johnstown Castle, we are looking at the feasibility of dairy bull-beef at eight months, at 12 months and at 16 to 18 months."

He warned farmers to suss out market outlets before embarking on novel bull-beef systems.

"The market couldn't absorb a sudden flush of such a product," Mr Nolan told the IGA delegates.

Then again, sexed semen could be a bigger factor by the time the milk quota has gone. Sexed semen has the potential to solve the problem of unwanted male calves from the dairy herd.

The Dawn Meats man refrained from predicting a factory beef price for the next few months but did accept that an autumn-to-spring price differential of 30-35c/kg was needed to cover the extra cost of winter fattening.

"Within Europe there is very little seasonality in beef prices. Ninety-nine percent of Irish beef is now sold into this generally flat-priced market."

Mr Nolan welcomed the introduction of the Better Farm Programme: "Our beef customers are impressed with the high grass usage and also the documentation of costs on these farms. This hands-on information impresses visiting supermarket buyers."

Bulls have the potential for efficiency and growth, but they are most suited to indoor finishing. Also bulls need very good management. If they develop into underfleshed stags, they will be heavily discounted.

But Irish farmers need to be able to put cheap weight on bulls at grass. At grass, the grazing of bulls is helped by smaller numbers, good weather, mixing with steers, absence of dairy breeds, and keeping them away from females. Grazing Holstein Friesian bulls late into a wet autumn can be a disaster.

Irish Independent