Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Farmers will keep a close eye on progress with the Derrypatrick Herd

John Shirley

I went to the Teagasc Grange open day with one question: how do you make money from beef farming? While I may not have come home with a proven blueprint, Teagasc's new Derrypatrick Herd project is a move in the right direction.

This project has targeted a gross margin of more than €1,000/ha from an enclosed beef unit carrying 120 suckler cows, plus replacements on 55.65 adjusted hectares.

Still not a fortune compared to Ivor Callely's expenses, but this gross margin is more than double the returns measured on the top one-third of beef farms in the National Farm Survey.

Placing this ambitious target up front is a win-win approach for Teagasc and farmers. For the researchers and advisers, it focuses them on the matters that influence margins and profit. Farmers will more readily identify with a unit that is run as a single farm under similar feed and animal health pressures as themselves.

The plan is to farm to the best technical efficiency but to report results, warts and all. The big farmer-turnout at last week's open day is a sign of the interest in the project.

In order to make a stab at the €1,000/ha, the Grange team has had to up the stocking rate to 2.9LU/ha. This is high.

It goes back to pre-REPS times, and at 225kg of organic nitrogen per hectare, the test farm is in Nitrates Directive derogation territory. Bag nitrogen use is targeted at 200kg/ha.

The reality is that if you want high margin, you need output. To get output, you need efficiency and tight stocking density.

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The targets for the 120 suckler cow Derrypatrick herd are to deliver bull progeny of 390kg carcass weight at 18 months and heifers of 310kg carcasses at 20 months. The target base price is €3.04/kg, but €3.17/kg will be achieved with bonuses. Meat plants take note; no dipping below €3/kg if you want farmers to make even a modest living from beef.

Delivery of these physical targets demands lifetime gains of over 0.9kg/day for heifers and almost 1.2kg for bulls. This will demand full exploitation of grass, genetics and hybrid vigour, and avoidance of disease setbacks.

It could be argued that the best chance of the Grange unit hitting the €1,000 target would lie in selling quality weanlings suited to top live-shipping outlets. The intention is to have the weanlings visually scored and valued as per the export market, but to bring them to slaughter.

Teagasc's Mark McGee and Paul Crossan reckon that if the progeny were worth more than €2.40/kg liveweight as weanlings, then selling them live would be the best option.

In pursuit of a high-health-status herd, the 134 foundation breeding heifers were screened for BVD, Johne's and Neospora. This has been followed by an intense vaccination programme including lepto and BVD pre-breeding, IBR, E-coli/rotavirus/ coronavirus to heifers pre- calving. This is followed by IBR and RSV to the young calves; a belt and braces job to keep a clean healthy herd.

Alongside the quest for overall profitability, the Grange trial will also look at cow breed types. Included are Limousin crosses from the dairy herd, Lim x Sim, Char x Lim and Char x Sim. Some cows will have more milk. Others may lack milk but excel in quality. There was farmer criticism of some plainer cow heifers on show, but time will tell which breed and type will make the most profit.

Of the 130 or so heifers that calved this spring -- all to easy calving Blonde d'Aquitaine bulls -- calf mortality was 9pc. The Lim x Friesian heifers ate 6pc less silage over the winter. Intakes at grass will also be measured. Best calf performance is also coming from the milky Lim x Friesians. Will this extra weight be maintained post weaning? Will the calves from the beefier cows grade and kill better? These are the questions that make the Derrypatrick Herd interesting.

How the grazing is managed will have a major influence on the profitability of the Derrypatrick Herd, stressed Eddie O'Riordan, head of Grange. This boils down to paddock-rotation management that delivers a longer leafy grass season.

Breeding is the other profit-making a pillar. Each cow has a predicted suckler beef value from ICBF, and this will be watched with interest. First calving heifers were mated to Blondes. Next time round, a Belgian Blue (the AI bull AVD has been used on a lot of the cows), plus a Simmental for breeding replacements. To encourage cows to come back in heat, calves were switched early on to twice-a-day suckling, with lots of trials within the trial.

The plan is to give a weekly Derrypatrick Herd report on the Teagasc website www. researchfarms.

Irish Independent

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