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Why we are saying 'No' to the beef data and genomics scheme


Finian McDonald (8) from Tinahely Co Wicklow meets two Montbeliarde dairy cows at last week's ploughing Photo: Frank McGrath

Finian McDonald (8) from Tinahely Co Wicklow meets two Montbeliarde dairy cows at last week's ploughing Photo: Frank McGrath

Finian McDonald (8) from Tinahely Co Wicklow meets two Montbeliarde dairy cows at last week's ploughing Photo: Frank McGrath

After a lot of thought and soul-searching, we have withdrawn from the Beef Data and Genomics Programme (BDGP).

Our Euro-star report showed that 98pc of the females currently in our herd meet the four and five star requirement on the replacement index.

A lot of our homebred heifers, which we would consider to be beef animals, are showing up as four or five star on the replacement index. But we know from past experience that these heifers, when slaughtered, will be U grade or better. In my opinion, they are too muscled to breed from and they certainly wouldn't be very milky.

Maybe 20pc genomic testing might have been more prudent in the long term. So, while you would hope that the indices are right, they are not proven over a significant timescale.

Also, like a lot of farmers, I went to the public meetings to find out all the information that I could about the scheme. But the fact that no one from the Department of Agriculture turned up at the two meetings I attended really set it off on the wrong note in my mind. I felt that it was a total lack of respect to suckler farmers.

Then the payment per cow was one of those awkward figures, too big to ignore and not big enough to make a real difference, especially when you consider all of the other implicit and hidden costs of the programme.

But while there were several things about the scheme that we didn't necessarily agree with, the real deal breaker for us is the six year rule.

We would be tying ourselves into the system for six years and that doesn't make business sense for us. The fact that I was 58 on my last birthday and while I would like to think that I would be calving the same number of suckler cows when, as the song goes, I'm 64, there are just too many unknowns.

In the past six years, the age spec for bulls has dropped and we are killing our heifers younger rather than letting them out to grass for their second season. We have also increased our suckler cows stocking rate and put more ground into tillage.

So who knows what changes will come in the next six years?

We have always prided ourselves that we would have responded to market signals so if something fundamentally changes in the market, we need to have the flexibility to adapt.

Meanwhile, back on the land, the under 16 month bulls have been housed and settled in well. They are now on a TMR diet of .7kg wheaten straw, 4kg silage and 12kg of ration.

Daily gain

The ration is made up of Maxammon-treated homegrown barley and oats, molasses, maize meal and a beef mineral.

These bulls have done well at grass and were 541kg on average coming into the shed. This gives them an average daily gain from birth of 1.3kg. So hopefully they will kick on now at this stage and they look to be pretty much on target to come in at around 400kg carcase weight.

Our 14 to 15 month old Angus heifers have been separated from the Continental heifers and are presently getting 2.5kg of a barley molasses mix at grass. These heifers will all be slaughtered off grass.

All the slatted tanks are empty at this stage while the fertiliser spreader has been power-hosed off and parked up until the spring.

Our cereal harvest is finished and the yields were excellent. Between winter barley, spring barley and spring oats, we ended up with an average of just 4t/ac, with the gluten-free oats coming in at 3.3t/ac.

I know the price is disappointing but our yields meant that we had some surplus grain to sell, which is a help to cashflow.

Thankfully all the straw is off the field at this stage, with enough for our own requirements in and covered, some bales sold and the remainder chopped. During the harvest we chopped anything we hadn't a customer for or didn't need for ourselves.

Robin Talbot farms in partnership with his mother Pam and wife Ann farm in Ballacolla, Co Laois.

Indo Farming