Farm Ireland

Friday 19 January 2018

Grass is growing great but our heifers are making €230 per head less than 2013

Heifer prices have dropped.
Heifer prices have dropped.

Robin Talbot

We cut the first of our silage last week in ideal conditions. We mowed it down, tedded it out and, after 24 hours, rowed it up and put it in the pit.

We were pleasantly surprised with the cut, which we reckon was 20pc heavier than other years, even though it would have been closed up at the same time and received the same fertiliser.

So far there has been no effluent so, fingers crossed, we have some quality feed.

Our target for this silage would be to have a DMD in the mid to high 70s, with a ME of at least 11.

Normally we wouldn't take the main cut for a couple of weeks but, considering how well the first bulked up, we would hope to cut it this week.

Having been out of the country for a few weeks, I suppose I had hoped that maybe something miraculous might have happened to turn around the beef industry while we were away. But a phone call from a friend on our return quickly brought me down to earth. It seems that things have gotten worse if anything.

Reading up on the beef summit that took place while we were away doesn't inspire me with confidence that anything is going to improve.

The measures being talked about seem to be focused on improving on-farm efficiencies, which totally ignores the fact that it's some of the most efficient beef farmers in the country who are really feeling the pinch at the moment.

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The real elephant in the room that doesn't appear to have been addressed at all is: who controls the market and who sets the price?

Unless something changes, once the weekly kill goes above 30,000 head, the market seems to be in oversupply and the price comes under pressure.

Another thing that concerns me greatly is that we seem to be prepared to allow the industry to put all our eggs into the British market. Where have all our European markets gone?

And if it is now to be the case that the market only wants carcases under 380kg, at this year's price of no more than €4/kg, that works out at €1,520/hd. Since the cost of keeping a suckler cow is generally considered to be up to €700 per year, that only leaves €820 to finish that progeny and leave a margin. Even the most optimistic of us find it hard to see that happening.


Our spring barley was all sowed while we were away and I must say it looks a picture at the moment.

Having soil sampled the whole farm this year, we were particularly conscious of applying the correct fertiliser that was required in each individual field and, after the crop emerged, we brought the total nitrogen up 110 units per acre.

Usually, we would sow two varieties of spring barley but Propino has given us the best results for the past few years so, rightly or wrongly, we plumped totally for that variety this year.

At the moment grass is very plentiful in the grazing areas so we have taken the opportunity to spray off a couple of extra paddocks for reseeding.

Regardless of what the future holds for this farm, one thing is certain, we need to maximise the amount of grass we can grow per acre and that can only be done with new grasses.

The calves all seem to be healthy and thriving well and I assume that's a response to the abundance of grass that is around at the moment. They have also all been treated with a pour-on to keep parasites at bay.

We weighed a random sample of these bulls and heifer calves which are up to nine-months-old. The heifers were averaging around 330kg, with the bulls around 370kg.

I have a slight concern at the moment where I notice a few calves developing what could possibly be ringworm. This is something we need to keep a close eye on because it is so contagious.

Sales of beef cattle are ongoing at the moment and, to be perfectly honest, you'd be just happy to see the end of them at this stage. Every day they are here, we know they are having a negative impact on farm income.

A quick comparison with last year shows that recently sold heifers of similar weights, grades and sale dates made €230/hd less.

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

Indo Farming