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Friday 19 January 2018

John Heney: Kill-out weights have really let me down

Last year's dire weather is to blame

This bullock graded O- 3-
This bullock graded O- 3-
This bullock graded P+ 3=
This bullock graded P+ 3=

John Heney

I have recently noticed a tendency among some media commentators to remark on how the current spell of good weather has helped farmers forget about the trials and tribulations caused by the bad weather they had to endure over the previous 18 months.

Unfortunately, some things are not that easily forgotten and the legacy which last year's wet summer, long winter and dreadful spring has bequeathed us will endure for some time yet. For instance, the huge rise in the sale of animal feed may have been a God-send for our feed industry, but for some farmers it could take many years to pay off.

Fortunately, I did not have to buy in any feed but I did get a very sharp reminder of that bad weather when I started selling cattle recently.

Anxious

I always feel a little nervous when I sell my first load of cattle but as they filled up the lorry well and looked fine I was fairly confident. However, I must admit that the results on the kill-sheet were disappointing to say the least.

While the fat-score and grades were only slightly back on last year's first load and still acceptable for Friesian cattle, it was the kill-out weights which really let me down. It was well back on last year.

As a result, I gave my second load an extra two weeks on grass and again they looked well going up into the lorry. Unfortunately, they fared no better than the first load.

While carcass weight did improve slightly, it was more than cancelled out by a fall in fat score and grades.

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So with my first two loads sold, carcass weights are well back from the last year, about 15kg per head at the moment, which will certainly eat into this year's profit. However, the one redeeming factor is that the higher price paid for beef this year has helped to take some of the sting out of the reduced weights.

Overall, I really shouldn't be that disappointed. When the almost total lack of growth in the spring and the slowdown in grass growth in July are taken into consideration, it is probably a major achievement to finish cattle on grass at all this year.

At the moment, with the welcome improvement in growth, my remaining cattle appear to be doing okay and hopefully kill-out rates will improve. But I am resigned to the fact that kill-out weights will be back overall this year in spite of buying-in weights being slightly heavier last autumn.

I think the last time I had such a drop in carcass weights was in the dry summer of 2010 when the average drop was about 10kg per carcass. I have no plans at the moment to consider supplementary feeding as I am not convinced by the economic arguments in favour of it. But if things don't improve I may have to reconsider.

On a more positive note, I got my second-cut silage into the pit on August 30. It had been stopped for over eight weeks and was not going to improve much more. As well as that, the improved growth in August really helped to bring it on.

I let it wilt for a day before picking it up and I was pleasantly surprised with both its yield and quality, especially when I consider the difficult growing conditions in July. Getting a decent second cut has certainly helped to lift my spirits in relation to winter fodder.

However, I must confess that I find it impossible to quantify exactly how much silage I actually have. Of course, after last winter and spring we would all like to have extra silage saved as a buffer, but I am reasonably happy to have saved what I have and hopefully it will be sufficient for the coming winter – presuming of course that we don't have a repeat of this year's terrible spring.

With my winter feed secure I can now get on with my task of buying in the raw material for next year – namely store cattle. This is a hugely significant event for me as the arrival of the first autumn-bought stores onto my farm marks the start of another year's farming cycle.

John Heney farms at Kilfeacle, Co Tipperary. Email: heney.john@gmail.com

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