If you asked me what the main enterprise on the farm is now, I would have to say it is dairy calf-to-beef, with store lambs on the side. But it didn’t start out like this.

From a standing start of lambing seven ewe lambs (to a big Suffolk ram) in 2016, we slowly built numbers and 60 breeding ewes went to the rams this time last year. Three scanned empty and so 57 ewes went into converted cubicles to lamb in February and March earlier this year.

I have complained previously about how awkward that was and subsequently gave myself an ultimatum. Either we built a proper lambing shed where space was plentiful and feeding was easy, or we stopped lambing ewes altogether. I did the sums and building a new shed just did not add up.

What did not help the ewes’ cause was the fact that I had bought and bucket-reared a few calves in 2019 and 2020, and both batches had left money. Not an awful lot of money, but enough to turn my head towards calf-rearing.

That the farm was a dairy farm previously and fenced for cows and cattle meant very little new fencing was needed to expand the bovine business. This would not have been the case if we continued to build sheep numbers, when every spare cent and every spare minute would have to be given to driving stakes every 5m and tightening sheep wire across what I calculated to be over 2km before all ditches and hedges would be sheep-proof.

No lambing next year

For the first year since we got back into farming, no lambs will be born here in 2022. We will buy store lambs in the autumn to graze off those fields that I had already fenced, especially the low-lying ones which are now getting too soft for weanlings.

So, onwards and upwards with the calf-to-beef enterprise. We currently have 40 weanlings on the farm, 16 of which are Friesian heifers. These are a remnant of my homework on milking cows.

They will go to the bull next May and be sold as in-calf next October. That leaves 24 Limousin, Hereford, and Angus weanlings. These were weighed in September for the €20 dairy-beef scheme, and they ranged from 199kg (February-born, Limousin heifer) back to 110kg (June-born Hereford heifer).

They are currently split into two groups of 20 with the smaller, younger animals getting 1kg of meal and the bigger ones getting 0.5kg.

Both groups were switched on to a 16% beef nut in early September, when they went on to nice after-grass and I could no longer justify the extra €80/t for an 18% calf nut. Time will tell if this short-term saving ends up costing more in the long term.

The next job now is to transition them into the shed over the coming weeks. I must also try to figure out what to do with the late-born ones that will need a second winter in the shed. But that is a long way off and there’s an upcoming winter of feeding to get through first.

Maybe some industry brainbox will come up with a new market or plan for them, but whatever that might be it will be the basics of supply and demand that continues to determine the profitability or otherwise of any farm enterprise.