Farm Ireland

Saturday 20 January 2018

postman delivers ad-lib angle on Beef farm walk

The combination of glorious weather, quality cattle, and the tidy picturesque stone-walled farm made the visit to Michael Mellett's (pictured right) beef unit beside Shrule, Co Mayo a very pleasant exercise for Irish Grassland Association (IGA) members.

Farming 43 hectares (106 acres) of dry limestone ground, Michael buys 450kg bullocks in spring or early summer and brings them to beef about a year later when they average about 400kg carcass weight. At all stages he would have 120 cattle on the farm.

The core of the enterprise is to get maximum gain from grass through early grazing and lots of paddocks, with judicial topping up with concentrates. Indeed, the type of lean continental bullocks grading R+ and U would not finish at the young age without the added meals.

Routinely Michael introduces about 3kg per head of meals at grass for the final six- to eight-week finishing period.

Overall, about 120 units of N per acre is used on the grassland, with the first half bag of urea going out when the soil warms to 5C.

Michael closes early, with all stock indoors by November 1 in the hope of getting the first cattle to grass in February. He told the visitors that having surplus grass was a bigger problem than too little, such is his commitment to providing a leafy bite to his cattle at all times. Most paddocks would be topped twice.

Meal feeding also gives extra flexibility in spring. This year Michael selected two batches of cattle in the shed for ad-lib, all-meal finishing. These cattle grew spectacularly well but managed to gobble an average of 15.2kg of meal per head per day over the 70-day finishing period.

But, when Alan Nolan of Teagasc did the sums on the ad-lib group finished out of the shed in January and February versus their comrades finished at grass in June, the margins favoured the grass finishing.

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The actual sums were - Ad-lib group 436kg carcass at €4.55/kg totalled €1,987/hd but €442 meal bill reduced the gross margin to €103.

The grass group at 406kg carcass at €4.70/kg totalled €1,875 but left a gross margin of €342/hd, mainly due to the low meal bill of €74/hd.

But, Michael Mellett doesn't regret the ad-lib exercise as having cattle moved early allowed him to take a good silage cut in mid-May because this ground was not grazed in spring.

Michael is a postman for his day job.

It is understand-able he needs to have some flex-ibility on grass stocking given the total unpredict-ability of the Irish weather and his high standards.

Irish Independent