Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 March 2018

Key messages for every calf to beef enterprise

Conor Greene pictured with some of the calves on his farm near Rathowen, Co Westmeath. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Conor Greene pictured with some of the calves on his farm near Rathowen, Co Westmeath. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

Key messages that can be applied to any calf to beef system were outlined during the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef farm walk on the farm of Conor Greene, Rathowen, Co. Westmeath.

For any system to be profitable the main focus has to be output, which is selling as many kilos of beef per hectare as possible.

Output is a function of a high stocking rate and more importantly the performance of each animal on the farm. If each animal on the farm is not performing and leaving a profit there is little point in carrying more non-profit making stock.

On the day figures were presented to show how Conor would increase output on his farm from 584kgs/Ha in 2014 to 1,038kgs/ha in 2018.

These targets may seem like a big jump in a short few years, but there is plenty of scope on Conor`s farm to achieve this.

In order for Conor to meet these targets a number of changes will be made to his system.

Calves will be bought as early as possible in the year so that they have a long grazing season at grass in the first year. A bigger focus on calf rearing will see the calves fed higher levels of milk replacer to achieve heavier weightsat weaning.

An extra batch of calves will be reared in the autumn/winter period to make more efficient use of the calf feeder and to help increase stocking rate on the farm.

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Soil fertility will be corrected and paddocks put in to produce more high quality grass for grazing (see headings below).

A health plan will be put in place in conjunction with the local vet and this will focus strongly on a vaccination programme.

Animal health plan

As the numbers of calves reared on farms increases, the disease pressure also increases dramatically due to many calves coming from so many different sources.

And with sheds are filled to capacity, diseases will thrive and affect the performance of your animal if there is any glitch in ventilation and floor drainage.

A calf vaccination programme is vital in these systems and Conor outlined on the day that he will implement a two shot Bovipast RSP programme to protect against viral and bacterial pneumonia. He will also vaccination against IBR, 24 hours after arrival of calf on to the farm.

Clostridial diseases are also covered using a two shot programme.


Conor could not emphasis enough the importance of putting in a paddock system on his farm. Due to the paddocks, his farm is now growing a lot more quality grass.

Grass is grazed now at the correct time when it is nice and leafy and of high quality. The management of fields has become a lot easier as surplus grass can be taken out and be saved as high quality baled silage.

Conor can now get a large percentage of his weight gain coming from grazed grass and this will help with reducing the meal bill for the finishing phase.

Grass is the greatest resource on all farms and the more weight gain that can be achieved from grazed grass the more profitable a calf to beef system can become.

Soil fertility

The foundation of any farm is the soil fertility. The three main drivers of grass production are pH, phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil.

On over 90pc of soils tested in Ireland at least one or more of the three elements mentioned above are deficient.

Having soil tested all of Conor`s farm in 2015 it was identified that over 50% was below the target for phosphorus, 30% for potassium and all the fields required some lime, ranging from half a ton to four tonnes per acre.

Conor has started correcting the pH issue first by applying two tonnes of lime per acre to the fields most deficient. Any field requiring greater than two tonnes per acre will have lime re applied again in two years' time.

Phosphorus and Potassium will be corrected by targeting low level fields with slurry and topping them up with 18/6/12 instead of CAN.

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