Cattle price pressure is 'opportunistic'
Factories are trying to apply even more pressure on prices, a move that is being criticised as opportunistic by the IFA.

Beef quotes on Friday show factories trying to implement further reductions on steer and heifer base prices.

Some factories are trying to reduce the base price for steers to €3.95/kg and for heifers to €4.05/kg, for cattle changing hands next week. This follows a 5c/kg reduction earlier in the week, with steers reducing from €4.05/kg to €4.00/kg, and heifers from €4.15/kg to €4.10/kg.

The price pressure has been criticised by IFA livestock chair Angus Woods, who described the move by factories as “opportunistic”.

“Feeders should strongly resist any price pressure from the factories,” he advised. “There is no beef in store and market demand remains strong.”

Woods is calling for Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to react.

“There is no market basis or justification for any reduction in cattle prices,” he added. “

In the last week, Bord Bia has highlighted the very strong beef market returns for factories in 2017 and the extremely strong returns on offal and hide values.

“Minister Creed needs to call an immediate beef forum and make it abundantly clear to the factories that they must return a fair and viable price to farmers.”

He also pointed to steady prices in our main export markets as providing an opportunity for higher prices to be returned to Irish farmers.

“Over the autumn, UK beef prices have remained very strong and EU prices have strengthen significantly, up 30c to 40c/kg on previous year levels,” Woods said.

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Simplicity at the core of Wicklow Better Farm
Brian Doran farms grassland and tillage in Co Wicklow, with a large crowd attending his farm walk.

A crowd of over 200 people attended the first of two Teagasc/ Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm Beef Challenge walks taking place on Brian Doran's farm just outside Carnew in Co Wicklow.

Brian is farming 43ha of grassland and 41ha of tillage. The grassland area is split into two blocks. The 32ha main block is situated around the yard, with the remaining 11ha five miles away.

Simplicity is at the core of Brian’s system, with 50 suckler cows and calves running in one block and a 55 steers and heifers running in another. All progeny are sold as steer and heifer beef.

The walk of Brian's farm includes five main stand focusing on areas and BETTER farm challenges such as herd health, breeding, grassland management, meeting the markets and dealing with the current drought and fodder problems.

The farm is no different to many farms across the country and is feeding both silage and concentrates in an effort to prolong the rotation and save what grass covers are left.

Each of the stands generated a good discussion between the audience and the speakers which included members of the Irish Farmers Journal livestock team, the BETTER farm management team and local Teagasc B&T advisors.

Here are just some of the main quotes from the day:

"Going forward, Brian's farm is capable of producing a gross margin of €1210/ha, a rise of almost €400/ha in five years” – Tommy Cox, Teagasc BETTER farm programme adviser.

“Reducing the calving spread has definitely reduced the labour on the farm. I like the black Limousin cows, lots of milk and easy calved” – Brian Doran, host BETTER farmer.

“Grazing infrastructure, soil fertility, grazing management and reseeding are the most important points of grassland management, in that order” – Hugh Mahon, Teagasc B&T adviser.

“If you are to take only one thing from today, it is that lime is the single most critical factor in soil fertility and in growing more grass” – Bob Sheriff, Teagasc B&T adviser.

“There definitely isn’t enough knowledge around the pricing grid system among farmers” – Denis Brennan, Slaney Foods

“Quality assurance is the bare minimum requirement from all our suooer market customers. It’s an absolute must for us when we are selling our beef.” – Denis Brennan, Slaney Foods

Another walk is scheduled for 5pm this evening on Brian Doran’s farm. On Thursday, the Teagasc/ Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm Beef challenge will head west to Nigel O’Kane's farm in Co Galway for another two BETTER Farm beef challenge walks.

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BETTER Farm: tapping into potential in Galway
Matthew Halpin visited Nigel O’Kane's farm in Co Galway ahead of the BETTER Farm national open day taking place there this Thursday.

On 25ha of free-draining land outside Claregalway, Co Galway, Nigel O’Kane is farming a 27-strong herd of continental-type cows, all while running a full-time plumbing business. With this in mind, the farm very much needs to run as one with the business, so simplicity is key.

The farm is typical of those found in the west of Ireland, being highly fragmented and consisting of many small fields surrounded by stone walls. On the positive side, it is these small fields that provide a perfect paddock-grazing infrastructure.

Breeding passion

Nigel has a strong interest in breeding good-quality continental cattle and his current crop of calves represent this perfectly. The majority of Nigel’s cows would have large frames and plenty of milk.

To continue breeding the best genetics into the herd, Nigel AIs all of his cows. Cows are AI-ed for six weeks using a range of Limousin, Charolais and Salers maternal and terminal bulls, before mopping up with his own Charolais bull.

It is extremely impressive that Nigel can operate an AI system given the fact that he works full-time off-farm. He credits being very well setup and also says the purchase of Moocall heat sensors this year has made the process remarkably easier.

Supplementing output

Last year, Nigel moved away from selling weanlings and began finishing his own bulls and heifers. The weanling system was not allowing Nigel to capitalise on the full potential of his well-bred stock, so it is hoped a finishing system can help Nigel boost both output and gross margin by getting the most out of his cattle.

Furthermore, the farm also operates a dairy-calf-to-beef operation and has done so for the last number of years. Each year, approximately 30 dairy-bred calves are reared and are subsequently sold live before the end of July in the following year at 17 months of age. Selling these animals live works well for Nigel, given the fact he is reducing the stocking rate at grass as growth rates dip later in the year.

Expanding efficiently

Understandably, Nigel doesn’t want to significantly increase the workload on the farm. However, Nigel has expanded, as he has built a shed to increase the efficiency on the farm. The shed, which was built through TAMS, contains a slatted area for 40 cattle, a handling crush and a dry bedded area for calving attached to calving pens. It is fair to say that this investment has significantly reduced housing pressure and it has made feeding, animal handling and calving much easier.

Nigel O’Kane will host a Teagasc/ Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm beef challenge national open day on his farm this Thursday.

Open day details

Nigel O’Kane, Caraun, Claregalway, Co Galway, H91 K862. Thursday, 19 July at 12pm and 5pm.

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