Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Kehoes lead way to reach gross margin of ¤1,000/ha


John Shirley

We've heard about the target of €1,000/ha gross margin from suckler beef. At a Teagasc farm walk last week, the talk was of a suckler beef target of 1,000kg/ha of beef liveweight.

The event was hosted by the father and son team of Joe and Paul Kehoe, near Ballygarrett, on the east coast of Co Wexford.

Paul, last year's Macra Young Farmer of the Year, has concluded that output is the driver of profit on a beef farm. His quest to reach 1,000kg/ha is part of the drive for the gross margin of €1,000/ha.

This output strategy is working. From 2006 to last year, the liveweight output from the Kehoe's 115-cow suckler herd grew from 408kg to 788kg/ha, while gross margin almost doubled from €350 to nearly €700/ha. These figures will jump again for this year, Teagasc's Pearse Kelly told the big crowd at the farm walk.

Of course, output can be bumped up by feeding more concentrates or by switching to calf-to-beef, but the Kehoe change has been delivered within the suckler herd and mostly from management changes.

The enhanced output has come from a combination of:

•Switching from selling stores to finishing all suckler progeny on the farm;

•Tightening up the herd calving interval from 423 days in 2007 to 374 days last year;

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•Taking control of grass by installing paddocks, drinking troughs and a central farm roadway.

The first two measures boosted sales per cow. Getting control of the grass has enabled the Kehoes to keep their cattle on fewer acres. This has released land for other activities. Last year, a 40hd dairy calf-to-beef venture was added. This year, another 22ha were taken out for spring barley, while a surplus of 500 bales of silage taken last year could even be repeated this season. Their sheep venture has been converted from about 300 ewes to 100 ewes plus finishing up to 700 store lambs.

Getting control of the grass also means a season-long supply of leafy material, which delivers excellent cattle thrive.

The formula for this is not rocket science. Rather, the grassland was fenced to give each cattle group a rotation of about nine, two-to-three-day paddocks. Cattle were moved into a paddock when grass was about 10cm (4in) high and taken out when grazed down to a tight 4cm (1.5in). Paddocks that got ahead of the 10cm growth height were taken out for silage. If grass runs short, silage can be fed back to the cows. In the past two years, the Kehoes didn't have to supplement with silage, mainly because they like to leave a little slack in stocking rate to allow for bad weather, etc. Their Teagasc adviser, Michael Fitzgerald, estimates stocking rate at 2.3LU/ha at about 125 units of nitrogen (N) an acre. Paul Kehoe finds it easier to manage grass now with higher N and higher stock than back in the time of low N and extensification.

Water troughs were placed in the centre of fields to facilitate temporary splitting of the paddocks.

Output and efficiency has also been boosted by a switch to bull beef from their suckler herd. Up until now, the cows, mostly Limousin-cross, were mated to Belgian Blue stock bulls. The intention was to switch to a Charolais terminal sire; a Limousin will be used on heifers and a Simmental was bought to breed replacements.

By a combination of trying for every last kilogramme from grass, and finishing them with 100 days of ad-lib concentrates, the Kehoes have pushed the bulls to about 780kg liveweight at 19-22 months. At a killout of 62pc for the Blue-crosses, this delivers carcasses of about 480kg.

"Too heavy for most markets," stressed Slaney Foods' Rory Fanning, who attended the farm walk. His preference is for steers and wants an upper age limit of 16 months on bulls, whether from both the suckler and dairy herd. He is prepared to buy bulls on the grid. The Kehoe heifers at 360kg carcasses and 20-22 months are ideal for the market.

Other lessons from the Kehoes include the use of slurry as the fertiliser of choice for early grass, and the use of dung sampling as the basis for worm and fluke dosing. Last autumn, the dung sampling showed up both liver and rumen fluke in the Kehoe cows. The cows needed two treatments to clear the rumen fluke. More recently, the analysis of the dung samples showed no fluke, but young stock showed Nematodirus -- usually a parasite of sheep -- and strongyle worms in bigger cattle.

John Shirley farms at Rathoe, Co Carlow

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