Farm Ireland

Friday 15 December 2017

Open day was eye opener in beef production


John Heney

This is normally a worrying time of the year for beef producers as they try to balance waiting for a good 'finish' with the ever-present risk of a decline in factory prices.

But look what is happening this year: instead of a drop in the price of beef, it has actually started to rise. This goes to prove how impossibly difficult it is to predict the cattle trade.

It also makes you think of all the cheap calves that were exported last year. If they were around now, they'd be worth money to farming and our beleaguered national economy.

Even with the on-off nature of growth this summer, my cattle appear to be doing well. The cold weather last month did slow things down a bit but then we can never have everything right. In June, I was able to use after-grass to introduce an extra paddock into my rotational grazing system and this helped to keep my grass supply up.

Currently, because of improved growth and also in the expectation of getting a load of beef cattle away fairly soon, I have locked up some fields for a late cut of silage to supplement my first cut.

A problem that has not manifested itself for some time has reappeared once again this year -- the issue of lost tags.

Luckily, when I buy cattle, I put my own farm tag in their ear and this allows me to immediately identify the animal that has lost its tags and I can then order a replacement.

An added bonus of these farm tags is that I use their sequential numbers to file my cards and this makes it easy to locate them in the herd register etc. I have also copied my stock files onto my phone so I can now access date of birth, cost at buying-in and weight of each animal when I am looking at them in the field. Of course it doesn't make them weigh any more but it can be useful.

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Recently, because of my interest in dairy-type stores, I travelled to Johnstown Castle to attend its open day on producing beef from Friesian bulls.

This proved to be a real eye opener for me -- full marks to Teagasc and the sponsors, Dawn Meats, for an informative and professionally run event.

However, you can imagine, coming from an almost totally natural grass-based system, how strange it was hearing about systems which used up to two tonnes of meal per animal.

The day finished with an open forum and I must say that I found it somewhat ironic when I looked up at the Bord Bia posters on the wall promoting the benefits of Irish grass-fed beef, that the forum was discussing the benefits of beef production from ad-lib meal feeding.

Overall, it was an informative day and certainly gave me a great insight into the pros and cons of bull beef production from Holstein and Jersey crosses.

On the subject of nature, this appears to be a very active year for wildlife on my farm. The rabbit and fox populations have gone into overdrive. The pheasant population has also increased and, recently when I was topping, I narrowly avoided putting an end to a clutch of young chicks and their mother -- luckily I saw them just in time and was able to take evasive action. I hope that they are as lucky when the shooting season opens.

Other recent visitors to my farm were a pair of Shelducks.

This is a breed of mostly white duck, which is usually only seen in coastal areas but this year they decided to breed in the recently cleaned-out pond in the high field. Over the past month or so, I really enjoyed watching one little baby duck swim around my pond.

It's a bit of a mystery to me what happened to the rest of the ducklings but I like to think that they travelled overland with their parents to a nearby stream. A few days ago I watched this baby duck, now fully fledged, begin to fly so I suppose it won't be long until he leaves to join his friends.

I must say I will really miss seeing him each morning as I check my cattle.

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary

Indo Farming