Farm Ireland

Friday 27 April 2018

Pioneers setting the trend in delivery of quality weanlings

Innovative men reaping returns

John Shirley

As Eamonn Dunphy might put it, there's good weanlings and there's great weanlings. The good weanling is making about €2/kg but the great weanling can fetch €3/kg or maybe even higher. Europe's butchers want muscle and are prepared to pay for it exponentially.

This extra €1/kg (or even part of it) brings weanling production into potential net profit. The sad reality is that most Irish suckler weanlings are being subsidised by the farm direct payments. Teagasc's National Farm Survey of cattle rearing farms over the years 2006, 2007 and 2008 showed average family farm income only reached 67pc, 60pc and 55pc of the direct payments being collected on these farms respectively. This position is not sustainable.

A figure of €3/kg returns €1,000 for a 333.3kg weanling. But if producing €1,000 weanlings was easy, everybody would be at it. The holy grail of the weanling business is to find a formula that will consistently deliver the well-muscled E and U-grade weanlings that will hit €1,000/hd or thereabouts.

The most used route to the great weanling is via a Belgian Blue bull. But speak to any of the live shippers and they will tell you that when they go into a typical herd using Belgian Blue sires, they find a super group, a middle group and a tail-ender group of weanlings.

However, the shippers will also say that standards are rising. More herd owners are achieving close to 100pc great weanlings.

Between AI and very good stock bulls, herd owners have access to sires that are capable of getting the desired weanling. The next step in the quality ladder is to acquire the suckler dam that will consistently deliver the real McCoy calf. And this calf has to be delivered with minimal resort to Caesarean sections. There is no profit if you have to fork out €300+ from the €1,000 to your vet for a C-section. The Irish suckler business needs cows with large open pelvises, with enough milk, docility and an ability to go back in calf.

Over the years, Teagasc research did not focus on the export of quality weanlings. The chasing of this holy grail has been done by pioneering farmers. These pioneers include former IFA deputy president Derek Deane, Jimmy and Enda McGee at Athlone, Ger Peters in the Glen of Aherlow, the Pearsons, of the Boherard Herd in Laois, and lots of other smaller herds from south Kerry to the north of Donegal.

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