The dairy beef unit at Teagasc Grange has a land area of 37.5ha (93ac), purchasing 120 calves annually to be produced from an under-24-month grass-based steer system.
The current research focus is to compare the performance of three dairy-beef genetic groups, which consist of male Holstein Friesian (HF) and two Angus (AAX) groups representing the main calf breeds coming from the dairy herd.
The HF group are the progeny of the top four EBI sires, while the two AAX groups are the progeny of AA sires divergent in genetic merit for carcase weight and conformation, with both having similar breeding values for calving ease.
These steers had an average carcase weight of 305kg
In 2019, the HF steers were slaughtered at 23 months after a finishing period of 81 days, having consumed a total of 740kg of concentrate over their lifetime.
These steers had an average carcase weight of 305kg, grading O- with a fat score of 3+ and generating a carcase output of 976kg/ha.
The AAX steers were slaughter at 22 months after a finishing period of 61 days and a lifetime concentrate consumption of 638kg. Carcase weight was 297kg, grading O= and a fat score of 3+, giving a carcase output of 949kg/ha.
Each of these systems has achieved exceptional performance due to particular attention in three key areas: calf health, calf rearing/nutrition and grassland management.
Yearlings were turned out to pasture on 17 March; this was two to three weeks later than planned due to poor weather conditions.
Grazing conditions and grass supply were excellent until early June when grass growth fell to 20kg DM/ha/day, with only eight days of grass ahead. Grass demand at that stage was high, with 50% of the area closed for second-cut silage and all calves and yearlings were on grass only.
They now offer a high-quality feed source to maintain animal performance and fill the feed deficit
To reduce grass demand, baled silage was fed back to yearling steers for approximately 10 days; this had been harvested this year from surplus grass and it was of very high quality.
This ensured there were 12 to 14 days of grass ahead. These bales were hugely valuable, as their removal helped maintain the correct pre-grazing cover when growth exceeded demand. They now offer a high-quality feed source to maintain animal performance and fill the feed deficit.
Grass production across the farm for the year to date is 6.1t DM/ha, in comparison with 6.8t DM/ha for the same period in 2019. Since rain has arrived, growth has finally surpassed demand – growing 78kg DM/ha, while demand is at 59kg DM/ha.
By supplementing cattle with baled silage over a 10-day period, the average farm cover increased to 676kg DM/ha, giving 12 days of grass ahead.
This year has really demonstrated the importance and value of removing surplus bales when the opportunity arises.
Performance of yearling steers has been exceptional since turnout in mid-March. HF steers now weigh 422kg, achieving an average daily gain (ADG) of 1.41kg since turnout. Similarly, AAX steers have performed exceptionally and now weigh 416kg, achieving an ADG of 1.4 kg.
This performance has been achieved by targeting pre-grazing covers of 1,300kg to 1,600kg DM/ha and maintaining sward quality by consistently grazing to a residual height of 4cm and removing excessively high covers as surplus bales.
All calves are now weaned and are at grass. Since arrival on farm at 21 days of age, calves have gained 0.71kg/day, with HF calves (12 February-born) now weighing 128kg and AAX calves (15 February-born) weighing 130kg.
Since turnout, calves have been offered highly palatable swards
These calves were all reared on 4l of milk per day (0.5kg powder), along with access to ad-lib concentrate and straw as their fibre source. Calves were weaned once they hit an 85kg weight target. Since turnout, calves have been offered highly palatable swards, generally after the removal of surplus bales or first-cut silage at a cover of 800kg to 1,000kg DM/ha. As calves are well adapted to grazing, they will be targeted at heavier covers of 1,000kg 1,300kg DM/ha for the rest of the summer.
Calf health has been excellent, with only one case of mortality to date. Calves are checked for parasites by regularly monitoring performance through weighing and collecting faecal egg counts to determine the level of challenge.
Alan Dillon, Teagasc Kilmallock
The second phase of Teagasc Green Acres Calf-to-Beef Programme started in 2019. It includes 12 commercially operated calf-to-beef demonstration farms nationwide. This programme is supported by two Teagasc specialised advisers. An economic analysis of a comparable group of farmers in 2018/19 has shown that gross margins/ha on these farms have increased from €658/ha to €696/ha, or an increase of 5.8%. Gross output/ha increased marginally from €1,788/ha to €1,807/ha. Stocking rate has increased from 1.95 to 2.08 LU/ha, while liveweight output/ha has increased from 1,020kg to 1,053kg. Variable costs reduced from €1,130/ha to €1,111/ha. In 2019, calf purchase prices reduced slightly, but this wasn’t enough to compensate for the lower beef price. In addition, fixed costs increased from €602/ha to €617/ha.
Cattle on the programme are weighed regularly. Large farm-to-farm variation in animal performance is observed. The average housing weight of spring-born male calves on the 12 participating farms was 10kg below target (230kg versus 240kg target). The performance of these animals was also below target over the winter period (0.54kg/day versus 0.60kg/day). This resulted in spring 2019-born male cattle being 20kg lighter on average at turnout than the target (290kg versus 310kg).
Comparison of the performance of Holstein Friesian, Aberdeen Angus and Hereford steers
The Holstein Friesian spring-born animals, slaughtered between January and April 2019, had heavier carcases than their early-maturing counterparts, although of poor quality in terms of conformation. The higher carcase weight of the Holstein Friesian returned a higher financial return to the calf-to-beef farmers than the Aberdeen Angus or Hereford steers. Although the costs of producing these Holstein Friesian steers are higher (about €47/head higher variable costs) in terms of their daily feed intakes and additional concentrates required at finish, the differential in calf purchase price (average of about €72/head over the spring of 2019 and 2020) would not be enough to make up this balance and to justify the additional calf purchase price associated with Aberdeen Angus and Hereford calves.