Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 February 2018

Lifting your average is the best way to survive producing beef from sucklers


Robin Talbot

What I like to do every January is take a walk around the yard with a calculator and notepad, checking on our supplies and bedding. On the assumption that we will have a normal spring, we would be relatively happy that we will be okay on both fronts.

As is usually the case, we have plenty of farmyard manure heaped in the yard, ready for the off as soon as the calendar and the weather allows. The farmyard manure will all be spread on the tillage ground.

We will also try and spread some slurry over the next few weeks. The slurry we spread last year in January worked particularly well, I felt. So we will try and do the same again this year, weather permitting.

All the suckler cows, stock bulls and breeding heifers have been dosed for fluke and were treated for internal and external parasites.

This winter we didn't treat any of the young stock for fluke, since none of them will be going out to grass and none of the under-16-month-old bulls that have been slaughtered so far showed any signs of fluke.

The bull has been removed from the maiden heifers and they are due to be scanned in the coming weeks. We only leave the bull with the heifers for approximately eight weeks. I always feel if a well-grown healthy heifer doesn't go in-calf in an eight-week window, the chances are that she is a poor breeder and it's better to find that out sooner rather than later.

We will be removing the stock bulls from the main herd this coming week and hopefully most of them are in calf. It's always an apprehensive time until they are actually scanned. At the risk of repeating myself, unless we get a higher percentage of cows in-calf, we have already lost ground that can't be made up.

We have finished selling our under-16-month-bulls and considering the turmoil in the bull beef market at the moment, we are not sorry we made the decision to go this route, though it has been a learning curve and hasn't been without its challenges.

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We had two breeds of bulls, Belgian Blue cross and Limousin cross, and an analysis of the factory sales sheets shows a significant variation in returns. Its important to note that some of the Limousin bulls would have been heifers' calves.


The Belgian Blue carcases weighed 410kg, the Limousins 405kg but the real difference was in the price, with the Belgian Blues coming in at €43/hd more. This was because of their better grades. Two of the Limousin bulls were a little bit lean whereas all the Blues comfortably reached the fat cover spec.

A statistic that our Kingswood farm management programme shows up is that these animals spent an average of 482 days on the farm and, after deducting a birthweight of 45kg, they had an average daily gain from birth of 1.35kg, with a range from 1.17 up to 1.47.

An additional figure that jumped off the page at me was that while the bull that gained 1.47kg/day made the same price per kilo carcass as the bull that gained 1.17kg, but the former returned €368 more.

So I suppose the message is still the same. If we want to survive producing beef from the suckler herd, it's not about increasing the number of top performers in the herd, it's about lifting the average and that can only be done by taking out the poorer performers.

The rest of our bulls, those that weren't under the 16-month system, will be finished in the conventional 18-to-20-month system. So it will be interesting to compare these two sets of figures.

We have moved some of the beef heifers onto their finishing diet this past week and my best guess would be that 50-60 days will put a good finish on the most forward of these.

At the moment a lot of them are in the range of 520-550kg liveweight, with some lighter ones picked out that we will leave on their growing diet for possibly another month.

At the risk of putting a jinx on them, in general we would be very happy with the health and vigour of our calves this year. They all get fed some ration every morning, the bulls about 1kg, the heifers about 0.7-0.8kg.

I find this a great way of herding the calves because if a calf is shy to come to the trough, its one of the first warning signs that something is amiss.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother, Pam, and wife, Ann, in Ballacolla, Co Laois. Robin can be contacted at

Irish Independent