Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Late calving cows drive up costs on suckler farms

Average 40ha holding over €3,500 'in the red' says Teagasc expert

Teagasc researcher Aidan Moloney speaking at the Beef 2016 event where he urged pedigree societies to follow the example of Angus and Hereford in branding and marketing their produce. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Teagasc researcher Aidan Moloney speaking at the Beef 2016 event where he urged pedigree societies to follow the example of Angus and Hereford in branding and marketing their produce. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Late calving cows in May are a "big problem" on suckler farms as they are unable to feed off spring grass which drives up costs in a low margin business, a Teagasc specialist said.

Paul Crosson, who is leaving the advisory service to join LacPatrick Dairies, told farmers at the Teagasc Grange Beef 2016 event that compact early calving was a key factor in improving profits on farms.

Taking an average 40ha suckler farm with 23 cows on average carcase gain and a low calving rate per cow of 0.83, Dr Crosson pointed out the net margin was in the red to the tune of -€3,512 with variable and fixed costs at €2.51/kg.

"It is costing the average farmer about €2.50/kg of liveweight to produce beef on a carcase weight basis that is about €4.55/kg," he stressed. "We know that beef prices at the moment are below that."

However, if the 40ha farm had a higher beef output than the national average, it produced more efficiently at a stocking rate of 53 suckler cows, finished stock at 20-24 months then the results were more positive. Dr Crossan said in that case the cost of production would be €1.59/kg, or €2.90/kg on a carcase weight basis.

"When you couple a decent margin with high output that is when you generate much higher levels of profitability at over €21,000."

However, the Teagasc researchers pointed out the €400 profits per cow does not include either labour or land costs.

Dr Crossan said it was "very readily achievable" to mirror the successes of farmers in their Better Farm programme who were achieving production costs of around €1.80/kg.

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Meanwhile, Adam Woods, who co-ordinates research on the Derrypatrick herd at Teagasc Grange, said key infrastructure like fences, drinkers and roadways were vital to aid grass growth. Mr Woods said the net margin increases by €105/ha if grass consumption is increased by a tonne per hectare, while the carbon footprint decreases by a 1pc.

Calving rate

A 5pc improvement in calving rate adds €54/ha, while an improvement in calving rates from 36 months to 24 months brings in an additional €112/ha while increasing daily liveweight gain by 0.1kg a day improves margins by €78/ha.

Grassland expert Michael O'Donovan said there were plenty more beef and dairy farms that could grow far more grass and improve profits.

"We know from PastureBase that every extra grazing that you can get from your paddock is going to grow you 1400kg more grass," he said. "Every extra paddock on the farm will give you five extra grazings on your farm.

"The best paddock at Derrypatrick grows around 19t of grass and the worst paddock is growing around 7t of grass," he said, adding those were the ones that were costing as they mean more concentrates in the system.

He added that most farms could benefit from receiving around 2t of lime per hectare.

Breed branding can boost the bottom line

Pedigree breed societies should look to follow in the footsteps of Angus and Hereford groups by creating a distinct marketing brand.

Teagasc's consumer taste research has found that if Belgian Blue cattle were brought to the same fat content as the Angus, killed at around 3= to 3+ grade, then there was no difference, said researcher Aidan Moloney.

"It is all about the fat, the marbling."

The research proved there were opportunities there for other breed societies.

"The early maturing breed societies have done a really good job in marketing - you've created a brand image for Hereford, you've created a brand image for Angus," he said. "Why not have a Charolais deluxe range the same as you have Angus or Hereford. My point is it is really not about the breed it is about the fat that is in the meat."

There was also no difference in meat quality between bulls and steers on a high concentrate diet slaughtered at the same ages that were produced to the same fat levels.

"You are not rewarded now for producing animals on an eating quality basis," he said. "There is a loose association between the fat score you get in the factory and the eating quality."

Mr Moloney also pointed out the Teagasc research on bulls fed on a traditional high concentrate system found no difference in eating quality between those finished at 14.5 months, 16.2 months and those pushed out to 17.4 months.

"There was no difference in eating quality even though the industry says a lot about under 16-months," he said.

"Age at slaughter is an important market specification but it is not related to quality in my view."

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