The lack of profitability in suckler beef production continues to dominate discussion among herd owners around the country, especially with current factory prices for prime cattle. Farm input costs continue to rise, with concentrate rations and fertiliser prices recording significant price hikes already this spring.

Regardless of the challenges the beef sector faces and lack of a long-term national strategy, the suckler cow still has a place in rural Ireland.

There has been an exodus to dairying in parts of the country conducive to running milk cows, but this is not an option on heavy or heavily fragmented farms.

There has also been a trend of cutting cow numbers, as more farmers look to purchase stores and dairy-bred calves.

But the competition for calves has seen inflated prices being paid this spring and recouping this money will be difficult.

While the suckler cow is expensive to keep, farmers have a controlled supply of calves coming through every year and they are only exposed to the market when selling animals. In a store-to-beef system, the farmer has no control over buying or selling prices.

The drive for greater efficiency has long been promoted in the Irish Farmers Journal and by various advisory bodies. This week, we have an overview of what the BETTER Farm NI programme has delivered in Northern Ireland since 2017.

Gross margins increased by £401/ha as the farmers addressed the basics of soil fertility, animal health, cow fertility, grassland management and marketing the right cattle for the right market. Adam Woods reminds farmers of the importance of animal health and responsible use of medicines on-farm.

Declan Marren gives advice on managing cow body condition from calving to breeding time, so that fertility is not compromised. Finally, we also lay out the costs involved in rearing suckler replacements and whether this is value for money.

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