Research does not back up beef growth strategy

Nutrition: Getting your silage tested is a valuable first step to aid you in your feeding decisions this winter.
Nutrition: Getting your silage tested is a valuable first step to aid you in your feeding decisions this winter.

John Heney

Perhaps it's just me but I always feel relieved when Christmas Day is over. I still worry each Christmas morning that something may break down or perhaps not even start and I'll be left with a shed of very hungry cattle on my hands.

Thankfully it has never happened.

The last of my cattle went into the shed about 10 days before Christmas, so at this stage they are all well settled in, that is with the exception of four cattle that had to be left out because of sore feet.

I started my cattle on second-cut silage but at this stage they are on to the first-cut which doesn't appear to be as good.

Foolishly I cut it during a wet period in late May and it doesn't appear to be as palatable as the second-cut which was cut in beautiful summer weather - we live and learn.

Last winter I had to take 10 or 12 cattle out of the shed for one reason or another. In case this would happen again I stopped-off about 12ac of sheltered ground in early October which I hoped would carry them over the winter.

At the moment this area has a nice cover of grass but with just four cattle outside I may be able to save it for early grazing which would be a great bonus in the spring.

Looking forward to upcoming 12 moths, few beef farmers will be overly confident. And there is little coming from either policy makers or the advisory service to lift the air of pessimism.

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Indeed, last summer I attended a special beef open-day in Teagasc Grange in Co Meath which was supposed to tackle the issue of low incomes in the beef sector.

The story I heard being repeated all day was that if you wished to increase your income from beef farming you had to increase your output.

What really perplexes me is that this advice, which is also endorsed by the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, is at odds with research findings published by some of our top specialists. Indeed, a recent paper by Dr Paul Crossan of Grange, Dr Michael Wallace of UCD and Austin Ashfield found that the best income returns for beef farmers were from low-cost, low-input grass-finishing beef systems.

The poorest returns were from highly intensive beef production systems including young bull beef.

This begs the question, why is Minister Coveney, promoting more intensive beef production when it produces the lowest returns for the sector he is specifically charged to look after?

The only winners are the feed merchants and farm inputs providers. The real losers according to published farm income figures are beef farmers.

The recent news from the US is encouraging and may help to bring about a switch-back to genuine grass-based, low-cost beef finishing systems.

However, with the increased drive towards large beef feedlots and the decision by the animal feed merchants to supply only GM-based feed, have we winged the 'goose who laid the golden egg' before she got a chance to fly?

John Heney is a beef farmer from Kilfeakle, Co Tipperary.

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