Farm Ireland

Wednesday 13 December 2017

John Shirley: Derrypatrick highlights need for weather, supports and breeding

Coveney needs to act for both the sake of the suckler herd and country's wealth

John Shirley

I came away from the Teagasc open day last week with my convictions firmed up on a number of fronts.

First, single suckling creates huge wealth and added value for Ireland, but only small margins for the cow owner.

For the good of the country and to keep the cows on farms, a significant incentive must be reintroduced.

Luckily, Farm Minister Simon Coveney has the means to achieve this with a coupled payment under the Single Farm Payment (SFP) reforms.

But has he the guts to face down dairy and tillage farmers who will have to forfeit some of their SFP?

Secondly, when dealing with a low margin enterprise such as single suckled beef, the 2012-13 weather onslaught has been catastrophic.

On the Grange Derrypatrick Herd, the net margin was cut by more than two thirds from €614 to €199 per hectare.


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Imagine if that happened to Dublin bus drivers, Teagasc scientists, politicians or, God forbid, even to the fee for writing in the Farming Indo?

When the weather losses were analysed at Grange, loss of thrive was a bigger factor than the extra cost of feed by about two to one.

Thirdly, I have long suspected that the Limousin cross British Friesian was the most suitable suckler cow for a lot of Irish suckler farms. Measurements from the first two full years of the Grange Derrypatrick Herd have shown this cross delivering higher net margins than the more Continental-type cow.

The extra milk from the Limousin cross Friesian (11l a day versus 7l a day for the Charolais cross Limousin) delivers a significantly heavier weanling and this advantage is carried through to slaughter. This result was achieved with Blonde and Belgian Blue progeny so that any hybrid vigour effect was common to all cow breeds.

Cow intakes were not assessed in this trial but the indications are that the Limousin cross Friesian will not eat any more than the others and maybe even less.

Currently, the Derrypatrick Herd has mainly Charolais cross calves on the ground. For the coming season, half of the cows are in-calf to an Angus bull. It is expected that the Angus cross calves will not match Charolais for growth but maybe a price premium will compensate for this?

The question some farmers were asking was: how would Angus or Hereford cross cows from the dairy herd stack up in the Derrypatrick Herd for overall profit?

Operating at maximum stocking rate, it was inevitable that the weather hit from summer 2012 and spring 2013 would be big.

This was manifest in a 40kg carcass-weight drop in a consignment of bulls recently slaughtered. This year's weanlings are also lighter by about 50kg a head.

After a topsy-turvy grass-growing season in 2013, the grass and fodder supply for the rest of the year for the Derrypatrick Herd looks OK, with above-average grass growth over the past two weeks.

Fertility in the herd also looks OK for the coming season.

Overall, however, the ambition of hitting a gross margin of more than €1,000/ha has also taken a hit. At the farm walk the 2011 gross margin was cited at €1,153/ha versus €851/ha for 2012.

One of the most sobering figures quoted on the day was €700 as the cost of keeping a suckler cow for 12 months.

One speaker said that you need to keep the progeny to beef to spread the cost over more kg of sales.

We're back to where we started. To keep the suckler cow, the farmer will have to be incentivised.

It's over to you, Minister Coveney.

Indo Farming