Selecting the most suitable system for your beef farm
The first main board at the open day will address the question of identifying the most suitable system for your beef farm. Beef production in Ireland is characterised by having an array of different production systems.
In addition to a long list of beef system options there is also a wide range of stocking rates across Irish beef farms. Which beef system suits a farm or farmer, and the intensity at which it is farmed, will depend on a number of different factors. These include labour availability, facilities, land area and type, and economics.
Every farm will be characterised differently when it comes to each of these factors and this will determine the choice of system and target stocking rate. There is also an increasing emphasis in society on work-life balance; in other words, how much time and effort is devoted to ‘work’ activities in comparison to leisure and family time.
Beef farming, and indeed farming in general, is somewhat different than other occupations since most farms are family-farms so there is an overlap in farming and family pursuits. Nevertheless, a balance must be struck between these partially competing objectives.
In new analysis presented at the open day, we will discuss the economic and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions implications of a range of production systems, bearing in mind the conditional factors noted above.
Specifically, we will assess beef systems producing and finishing suckler-bred weanlings, and dairy calf-to-beef production systems. We will also explore the implications of stocking rate and bull beef systems as part of this analysis.
Performance targets for resilient beef production
A major source of inefficiency in beef cattle production systems is failure to meet performance targets. Growing concern with climate change has resulted in proposals to further reduce national GHG emissions.
The beef sector can contribute to meeting these emissions targets by increasing the biological efficiency of production systems, and reducing animal slaughter age.
Achieving high animal performance is critical if animals are to be slaughtered younger.
Where key performance targets are not met, this has large negative ramifications for the profitability and environmental footprint of beef production systems.
In this regard, the impact of age at first calving and calves/cow/year in spring-calving suckler systems, and calf mortality, grazing season length, daily liveweight gain, and age at slaughter in both suckler and dairy-beef systems, on profitability and GHG emissions will be evaluated.
Results show that for both suckler and dairy-beef production systems, increasing biological efficiency increased profitability on a per-animal basis, and concurrently decreased GHG emissions ‘intensity’ (per kg ‘product’ produced), albeit the magnitude of the effects differed across the systems. The details of this analysis will be presented.
Achieving performance targets on beef farms
In terms of animal performance targets, breed/genetics creates the potential, but it is management that primarily allows that potential to be achieved.
This stand addresses the optimisation of grass-based beef production systems bringing together aspects relating to animal genetics, health and nutrition, and grassland management.
The role of breeding indexes in exploiting animal genetics will be discussed. The commercial beef value (CBV) is a genetic index tailored towards farmers purchasing growing-finishing cattle.
Analysis from the Grange dairy-beef research herd over the last three years, comparing five-star and one-star CBV beef × dairy steers on a grass-based production system, will be presented.
In terms of animal performance, the importance of herd health management practices and biosecurity, targeted indoor feeding of different animal categories and the growing significance of drafting cattle for slaughter in order to reduce slaughter age, will be addressed.
The ability of beef farms to grow and utilise grass, our cheapest feed resource, is fundamental to the economic, environmental and social sustainability of most beef production systems.
Even allowing for differences in local climate and soil types, large variation in annual grass production exists between beef farms, and thus highlights an opportunity to increase grassland efficiency through management.
The key elements of soil fertility improvement, managing the grass plant, and the increasing relevance of clover, particularly in light of the escalating price of fertiliser, will be outlined.
The implications and options for increased costs on beef farms in 2022
The year 2022 has brought about unprecedented levels of input cost increases, the likes of which Irish farmers have not seen before.
Inputs began to rise dramatically in late 2021 with chemical fertiliser prices increasing by €300-€500 per tonne by Christmas followed by further price increases occurring in spring to the point where the majority of fertilisers were costing in excess of €1,000 per tonne.
Although the cost of concentrate feed, milk replacer, diesel and polythene also increased over this period, they did so at a much slower pace. Consequently, the impact of these price rises was not initially felt by Irish farmers finishing cattle, rearing calves etc during the early months of 2022.
On the ‘output side’, beef prices have risen by over €1/kg carcase between January and May 2022, which has given those finishing cattle over the late spring and summer period a much bigger margin than expected.
Assuming an average carcase weight of 350kg, each animal slaughtered would be earning an additional €350 in May and June compared to January 2022, and nearly €600 per head extra compared to spring 2020.
The main issue facing Irish beef farmers operating various production systems will be beef prices next autumn and spring.
This stand will address the impact that those prices will have on profit margins, as well as providing strategies to mitigate the impact of rising costs.