Dairy calf-to-beef

With the increased availability of dairy bred calves on the market, many suckler farmers have started rearing dairy beef calves in the last few years. Speaking to mart managers this week there appears to be renewed farmer activity around mart rings looking for calves to rear.

The top farmers in this system place a big emphasis on the early born calf, so be careful purchasing April/May calves as they could be around for longer than you think.

Data from the Irish Farmers Journal THRIVE programme suggests that the most profitable dairy calf-to-beef system is finishing animals off grass at the end of the second grazing season.

The chance of doing this with an April-born calf is slim. Feeding high quality milk replacer and maintaining a high health status in calves is of huge importance to a successful system. Speak to your vet about a vaccination and dosing policy.

Artificially reared calves are more prone to worms and coccidiosis and need to be treated accordingly. Make sure calves have access to good quality roughage and get them eating ration as soon as possible.

Calves shouldn’t be weaned until eating 1kg of concentrates/day for 3-4 consecutive days and should be weaned gradually over a 7-10 day period. Once turned out they should be offered the best quality grass on the farm and are ideal stock to graze reseeds.

Feeding 1kg concentrates per head per day is a safeguard and is a handy tool when herding stock. If a calf doesn’t come to feed, you know there is something wrong. Good daily liveweight gains at grass is critical to the success of this system.

There is no room for error, and if performance at grass is below par you will end up making up ground on an expensive winter diet during the final finishing phase.


We are entering into peak demand on most farms and therefore growth needs to peak at the same time. Fertiliser application needs to be tailored to meet your stocking rate.

If you feel you have excess grass, don’t be afraid to close extra fields for silage. Silage stocks are pretty low on many farms, so it makes sense to try and build them up again.

A paddock system is the best way to maximise the amount of grass you grow and maintain quality in swards. Aim to grow grass in three weeks and to be eating paddocks in three days.

This will ensure you aren’t hitting regrowths.

Date for diary

Newford Farm in Athenry Co Galway is holding an open day on Tuesday 23 May from 2pm to 6pm. A farm walk will discuss performance of the 100 cow suckler-to-beef herd in phase one of the project (2015 to 2022) and preview plans for the next five years.

There will be a strong focus on breeding and genetics, grassland management and nutrition and physical and financial performance.

The farm is a member of the Teagasc Signpost Programme and Future Beef Programme. Key aims of these programmes are to create more sustainable and profitable farms, with a strong environmental theme of monitoring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving water quality and improving biodiversity.

The event is free to attend with catering facilities on site on the day.