Farm Ireland

Saturday 24 March 2018

Suckler farms still falling short of breeding targets

CHANCE TO RECTIFY: To answer why breeding targets are being
missed on suckler farms, an open day is scheduled for cattle
farmers at Teagasc Grange, Co Meath, on Tuesday, June 15.
CHANCE TO RECTIFY: To answer why breeding targets are being missed on suckler farms, an open day is scheduled for cattle farmers at Teagasc Grange, Co Meath, on Tuesday, June 15.

Making a margin out of suckler beef production is challenging. The Teagasc eProfit Monitor data for last year shows that for suckler-to-weanling/stores, the average gross margin per livestock unit was €148.

The best in the class, the top one-third of farmers using the eProfit Monitor, achieved an average gross margin of €273/LU, but the bottom one-third were in the red. Price did have an impact on last year's results compared to the previous year, but that is only part of the story. So how can this be improved?

Improving the fertility performance of the herd is the first step, and getting more out of grazed grass is the second. The breeding season is well under way on suckler units at the moment, but just because the sun has been shining, the grass is growing and the stock is out, doesn't mean that all is going well. Letting the bull in and closing the gate is not sufficient.

The figures mentioned clearly show that all is not well on the breeding front on most suckler farms. The targets of a 365-day or less-calving interval, a 12-week calving spread and 60pc of cows calving in the first month are not being met on most farms.

We are right in the middle of the breeding season at present, so close monitoring is critical. On many farms last year, the empty rate was not known until it was too late to do anything about it and culling rates were higher as a result.

Those using AI are ahead of the curve and will know the submission rates, the numbers repeating and will therefore be using better genetics. Those using a stock bull should try to gather this information as well by observing activity more frequently. Even herding twice a day to observe cows will help.

Are cows coming on heat and being served? Have all cows shown? How many are repeating? It is only when this information is picked up and recorded that you are in a position to take corrective action if it is necessary.

Improving animal performance at grass is the other area that should be targeted. It is the cheapest way to put weight on animals and improve performance. Maintaining grass quality by having a planned grazing strategy will deliver results.

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Several initiatives are under way, all aiming to help more farmers improve their profitability from sucklers. Teagasc is working closely through discussion groups and with individual farmers. These producers are making progress, but the challenge is to reach more farmers and assist them to take a few small steps to improve their business.

An interesting initiative has been taken at the Teagasc centre at Grange where a challenging target of €1,000/ha gross margin has been set.

All cattle farmers should make a point of getting to the beef open day planned for the Grange centre, Co Meath, on Tuesday, June 15.

A new suckler herd was set up there last year and this will be the first opportunity to go and see it. The herd is spring-calving and the first set of calves are on the ground now. Calving started on February 12, with a mean calving date of March 12 and a calving spread of just 11 weeks.

The cows in this Derrypatrick herd are a mix that reflects the majority of suckler cows found on farms around the country. There are four distinct breed types in the herd, Limousin x Holstein-Friesian, Limousin x Simmental, Charolais x Limousin and Charolais x Simmental.

The breeding season is in full swing having started on April 26. All cows were tail painted and had tails trimmed prior to the start date. Vasectomised, teaser bulls were used for heat detection. These had chin balls (paint) attached as a heat detection aid in conjunction with using tail paint on the cows.

AI will be used up to around June 10, after which it is planned to introduce Belgian Blue stock bulls to mop-up.

The breeding season is planned to end by early July and the bulls will be removed at that stage.

We will have more details of what is planned at the open day itself in the coming weeks, but put the Grange Open Day date in your diary now.

Irish Independent