Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Light suckler cows 'the way forward' for beef farmers

Adam Woods: Teagasc.
Adam Woods: Teagasc.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Beef farmers need to rethink what makes a "good looking" cow, according to a top Teagasc specialist.

Ahead of the open day on Teagasc's new suckler demo farm at Athenry tomorrow, beef specialist Adam Woods said that farmers would probably be taken aback by the small light suckler cows favoured by the project.

"We're trying to move the industry forward, and we've used what we think is the most profitable type of cow to maximise grass conversion into milk for the calf," said Mr Woods.

The Newford herd consists of 93 4- and 5-star Angus cows breed from the dairy herd, with liveweights up to 20pc lighter than the typical 700kg suckler cow.

"They also happen to be the most available cows from the dairy herd, where easy calving Angus and Hereford are increasingly being used by farmers in the latter half of the breeding season.

"With the expansion in the dairy herd, this is a reality that more suckler farmers will have to realign themselves to," said Mr Woods.

The herd will be bred using 100pc AI to maximise the reliability of the bulls being used. Two Charolais sires will be used this year to get carcase weight into the calves.

"We're using bulls that are over 30kg for carcase value, and are five star for terminal index. But they are also very reliable, with over 95pc for reliability, compared to maybe 25pc for a stockbull.

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"This is particularly important for something like calving difficulty, where our bulls will have a reliability of over 80pc, and a difficulty score of under 7pc," he said.

Average cost for the semen was less than €15/straw this year. Despite the fact that the cows are being asked to replicate a dairy grazing system, eating grass down to 4cm before being moved on, the submission rates being achieved by the Wexford herd manager, Matthew Murphy are excellent at 75pc in the first three weeks of the breeding season.

"The cows don't look beefy, but they are actually holding their condition well. We utilised over 10t of the 13tDM/ha that we grew in grass last year," said Mr Woods. "Really, we are trying to replicate what the dairy men have achieved regarding grazing," he said.

While the kill-out for cull cows out of the Newford herd is likely to be lower than average suckler herds at €1,000/hd, Mr Woods is confident that these R grade carcases will not compromise profitability.

"We're aiming to hit a gross profitability of €1,170/ha, or €550/ha net profit, before subsidies are added."

However, the Teagasc man said it was too early to say if the targets would be met, with the first lot of last year's calves due to be killed this year.

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