On Thursday 11 March at 8pm, the BETTER Farm NI programme will conclude with a webinar which is open to the public.

Access the event at www.ifj.ie/webinar.

Three of the programme farmers will discuss the changes to their systems and profitability within each business with video footage of cattle on farm.

As a brief preview to the webinar, an overview of the three farming systems is outlined.

Barry Carty

Garrison, Co Fermanagh

  • 64.5ha grassland farm.
  • Selling yearling stores.
  • GM/ha up £193/ha (€222) to £453 (€521).
  • Despite farming on extremely challenging land in the west of the province, Barry made huge progress during the programme.

    In 2016, the farm carried 43 Simmental and Limousin cows calving from mid-summer through to early spring.

    Bull calves were sold straight off the cow, averaging 351kg around eight months old, with heifers averaging 275kg. Sale price averaged 189p/kg for bull calves, giving a sale value of £662 (€762).

    The farm plan is built around 40 August and September cows all bred to AI indoors, with 20 cows calving in December and January and settled in-calf before turnout.

    All cows are now bred to AI sires. Charolais is the dominant sire to produce high-quality yearling stores for sale.

    Weight increase

    In 2020, steers averaged 435kg by 12 months old. Sale price averaged 231p/kg, giving stores a sale value of £1,005 (€1,155).

    By holding calves for longer, meal use has increased. Concentrate use is up 10t compared with 2016, but covers the extra 20 cows in the system also.

    As land is extremely heavy, Barry has invested in drainage, soil fertility and reseeding.

    This has allowed him to make the highest-quality silage in the programme year on year.

    Silage in 2020 was 73.8 D-value and has consistently been at this level over the last three years.

    This fodder drives milk yield and fertility in autumn-calving cows during the winter.

    All cows are now bred and calved in less than 12 weeks.

    Alastair McNeilly

    Muckamore, Co Antrim

  • 58.9ha grassland farm.
  • Steer and heifer finishing system.
  • GM/ha up £257 (€295) to £1,151 (€1,323).
  • Alastair has increased cows from just over 60 in 2016 to approximately 100 in 2020, with the farm heavily stocked at 2.6 CE/ha.

    Cows are Angus and Limousin crossed to sires of the same breeding, with some Shorthorn AI also used. Cows were bred to fixed-time AI in 2020 with positive results.

    Beef price impact

    GM/ha has increased year on year, rising from £894 (€1,027) to £1,151 (€1,322) in 2020. Steers are taken through to finish, as are surplus heifers. Steer price averaged 372p/kg (€4.51) in 2020, up from 334p/kg (€3.99) in 2016. However, the rise in beef price is not the main driver for the farm recording the higher GM/ha.

    Applying the 2016 beef price to finished cattle sales in 2020, GM/ha would be £1,011 (€1,162), down by £50/ha (€57) on the actual GM/ha recorded last year.

    This means the beef price increase was responsible for 19% of the £257 (€295) increase in the farm’s GM/ha.

    Carcase weight

    Steer carcase weight was 345kg in 2020 at 21 months, down from 360kg at close on 24 months in 2016.

    The earlier slaughter age reflects more Angus breeding and heavier cattle housed for finishing after the second summer.

    Cows on Alastair McNeilly's farm are Angus and Limousin breeding with fixed time AI used during the 2020 breeding season.

    Feed use

    This is also evident from concentrate use. Heavier housing weight and higher-quality silage has resulted in reduced concentrate use.

    In 2017, the farm used 56.5t of concentrate at £191/t (€219), but by 2020, total concentrate levels fell to 49.5t, costing £211/t (€242/t).

    Oliver McKenna

    Eskra, Co Tyrone

  • 26.6ha grassland farm.
  • Bull beef system and selling surplus heifers for breeding.
  • GM/ha increased by £688 (€791) to £1,570 (€1,804).
  • Oliver increased cow numbers from an average of 48 in 2016 to 60 calved in 2020, split evenly between autumn and spring.

    GM/ha rose by £688 (€791) to £1,570 (€1,804), which was the highest recorded across all of the programme farms last year. However, this figure is partially inflated, as the farm lost 9ha of rented land last year, which was 25% of the farm’s grassland area.

    Had the land base remained static, GM/ha would have finished just over £1,200 (€1,379). This would have been a 50% increase in GM/ha from 2016.

    With the loss of land, Oliver has cut cows back to 50 for 2021, again split evenly between spring and autumn calving. Cows are a mix of Angus, Simmental, Limousin and Salers breeding, with 100% AI used to serve breeding stock.

    All male cattle are finished as young bulls to free up grazing ground for cows. Bulls averaged 373kg deadweight at 476 days old in 2018, at a beef price of £3.44/kg (€4.16 incl VAT). Last year, bulls averaged 386kg deadweight by 450 days old, with beef price rising to £3.62/kg (€4.38).

    The herd is 100% bred to AI and heifers surplus to breeding requirements are now sold as suckler replacements. This has also added significant value to sales over beef finishing.

    Oliver has also developed a market for selling in-calf heifers around 18 to 20 months old, with prices typically in the range of £1,400 (€1,609) directly off farm.

    Read more

    Thrive: managing newly purchased calves – first 48 hours

    BETTER farm NI: gross margin rise of £401/ha during programme