Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

Experts give key guidelines on the secrets of suckler success

Joe Healy

Set targets, follow a plan and stay focused. This was the central message at the very worthwhile Western Breeders' sucklers exhibit in Elphin Mart last Saturday.

The first speaker to show what farmers should be aiming for was Teagasc's Aidan Murray. He highlighted the importance of conformation, milkiness and temperament in the suckler cow to drive the weanlings to good weights.

He gave the example of bull calves born in mid-February 2010 in Teagasc's Better farms programme and sold in early October last year, with an average weight-gain per day of 1.47kg despite meal only being introduced in July. Although the target of a gross margin of €1,000/ha has not yet been achieved, the farms involved in this programme have improved margins by almost 46pc from €386/ha in 2008 to €563/ha last year.

During the same period, the average farm in the profit monitor saw a decrease in gross margin of 7pc. Part of the reason for the difference was that the stocking rate on the Better farms has increased by more than 8pc to 2.2 LU/ha. Combined with an output improvement of 49kg/LU, the total liveweight sold per hectare jumped by 155kg to 691kg/ha last year. This represented a 29pc increase since 2008. Translating this into euro, even at a figure of €2/kg, is worth more than €300/ha. A gross margin of €700-800 is expected for this year.


Having produced a good weanling, it is important to know how and when to sell.

Weanling exporter David Garavelli was positive about prices for the present and future with new markets in Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, and Italian farmers also in the market for stock to eat the maize and silage that they have already harvested. Most suitable weanlings for the Italian feedlots are the well-shaped Charolais, weighing 360-450kg, that have been vaccinated against pasteurella pneumonia.

While selling is important, buying their replacement back is just as critical, and in breaking down the economics of this, Teagasc's Bernard Smith had a formula for farmers to compare the slaughter price with what they were paying for stock in the marts at the moment:

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Factory price (€/kg carcass) = store price in €/100kg kill-out percentage.

Taking a 550kg steer costing €1,155 and expecting a kill-out of 53pc gives an equivalent factory price of €3.96/kg carcass. Length of the feeding period is also critical, as the efficiency of converting feed to carcass reduces after 90 days for heifers and 120 days for steers, while bulls capable of efficiency are up to and in excess of 150 days.

Dawn's Paul Nolan admitted that the task for the processors is to ensure that the market returns prices of more than €4/kg. He also highlighted the role and advantages that the 'once calved heifer' can play by giving the farmer the opportunity to breed her and see if she proves to be a good breeding animal and mother. If not, she can be finished and sold at the steer base price on the grid provided she is under 36 months and under a certain weight.

Bord Bia's Ger Brickley cited the huge middle-class populations in Brazil and China, the fact that the top five beef-producing countries are now rearing two million tonnes less this year and the closing gap between EU and world market prices as reasons to be positive.

But he also highlighted recession, production costs, sustainability and lobby groups as negatives for the future. There was also a live exhibit of weanlings, stores, cows and calves with commentary from owners, mart manager, live exporters and buyers.

Indo Farming