Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Massive potential for 'grass-fed' beef exports to the US

John Tracey, who has been ploughing for 60 years, finished second in the senior event at the Carlow Ploughing Championships in Fenagh last weekend. Photo: Roger Jones.
John Tracey, who has been ploughing for 60 years, finished second in the senior event at the Carlow Ploughing Championships in Fenagh last weekend. Photo: Roger Jones.

Gerry Giggins

The very welcome, albeit long overdue, increase in beef prices has lifted the mood among beef producers.

The news from the US has been an added boost. Grass fed and hormone-free beef is a product that is increasing in American consumer popularity and has massive growth potential.

'Grass fed' beef is classified in the United States as animals that are raised and finished on forage-based diets. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation less than 10pc of world beef production comes from grass fed animals. Both cattle killed off grass and winter-finished in Ireland are ideal for this market.

Some people I have spoken to have misinterpreted the announcement as being solely for animals finished off grass. While excellent work continues to be carried out on grazing systems and grass utilisation, an equal amount of effort is needed on forage conservation (silage making) and the role of high quality grass silage in finishing systems.

Each year a particular issue comes to my attention on a recurring basis. In the past few weeks, a number of farmers have commented on lice being a major issue in their herd. All these farms had carried out standard treatments four to five weeks previously.

Time spent by the animal itching, licking and biting is time not spent eating, cud chewing and thriving.

Tell-tale signs of lice infestation include all of the above along with greasy or blackened hair around the mane and hair loss. All groups of animals can be affected, from suckler cows to finishing animals. Lice tend to increase the nutrition of the animal is poor.


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Colder weather coupled with poorer nutrition is a sure recipe for heavy infestations.

Most treatments give the impression that total cover is provided for the full housing period. This is clearly not the case and care should be taken to re-treat with an appropriate product at the first sign of irritation in the animals.

Animal thrive can be severely inhibited or lost during the period of infection. We are now at the point where lice populations are likely to be at their highest and consulting your vet to help choose a treatment method that will ensure complete eradication is very important.

The huge volatility in commodities such as crude oil and currency fluctuations have not yet affected feed prices. The main feed energy sources such as barley, maize, wheat, pulp and hulls have all remained reasonably stable.

Rolled barley is trading at approximately €190/t, and beet pulp is trading at the same price, and both represent the best value. The price gap between soya hulls and beet pulp has narrowed to €10.

My personal preference is for pulp when a digestible fibre source is required.

Maize meal continues to trade at €210/t, with wheat prices having moved in the past few months to match this. Cooked and flaked maize is being delivered on farm at approximately €228/t.

Where intensive feeding is being carried out, especially bulls, this processed maize is my preferred choice of feed.

On the protein front, all indications for the past four months were that soya prices were due to drop. Unfortunately, the weakening of the euro against the dollar has intervened to hold the price of soya around the €440/t.

A combination of soya and maize distillers can meet most animal's protein requirements, with distillers representing good value at €240/t.

With protein prices being high, savings can be made by reducing protein contents in the overall ration, especially with those nearing finish.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth.


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