Brian Geraghty, Dysart, Co Roscommon

Brian operates a dairy-calf-to-beef system on a 52ha leased farm in Dysart in south Co Roscommon. Of this, about 20ha of it would be rough grazing, with the remainder good grass growing ground.

In 2020, Brian reared 92 Angus heifers. Taking advantage of the good weather conditions last spring, Brian reared most of the calves at grass and achieved a daily liveweight gain of 0.9kg/day over the rearing phase. This spring, high calf prices have meant Brian has stayed out of the market as he struggled to see a return on investment at the current calf price.

Diarmuid Murray, Knockcroghery, Co Roscommon

Diarmuid farms alongside his father Sean and Uncle Seamus and they run a 120-cow dairy herd alongside a dairy-beef enterprise that sees all calves born on the farm brought through to slaughter.

This allows the family to make best use of the land, as around 24ha is away from the main yard and milking platform. Diarmuid uses 100% AI and has been focusing on using high-DBI beef sires with high beef value and positive carcase weights while keeping an eye on calving ease and gestation length at the same time.

John Bell, Barefield, Ennis, Co Clare

John entered the programme for the first time in 2020 and reared 20 Angus and Hereford bull calves on his farm in Barefield outside Ennis, Co Clare. The calves were between three and four weeks of age on arrival to the farm in late March and early April. The bulls were castrated prior to housing for winter and the plan is to finish them out of the shed in spring 2022.

This spring a similar number will be reared. However, John aims to get calves in on farm a week to 10 days earlier.

John Brosnan, Mullaghmarkey, Castleisland, Co Kerry

John has operated a dairy-calf-to-beef system on his farm for the past number of years alongside growing silage and hay for sale each year. In 2020, the farm reared a mix of 30 Angus, Hereford and Belgian Blue heifers.

Housing space is limited on the farm, with little room for cattle to be housed for a second winter period. With this in mind, John is going with all early maturing breeds in 2021 in order to maximise the number of cattle slaughtered off grass.

Kevin Feeney, Ballinrobe, Co Mayo

Kevin operates a dairy-calf-to-beef enterprise alongside a mid-season lambing ewe flock outside Ballinrobe in Co Mayo. The farm rears all Angus heifers, bringing them through to slaughter at between 18 and 22 months of age.

Ideally, Kevin likes to rear a batch of early-spring- or autumn-born heifers so that the rearing phase does not clash with the busy lambing period on farm. While high prices this spring prohibited any purchases being made, Kevin may purchase some reared heifers later in the year.

Mark Maxwell, Ballynagore, Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath

Mark runs a dairy-calf-to-beef system alongside his suckler herd outside Kilbeggan in Co Westmeath. Over the past few years he has taken in a mixture of both spring- and autumn-born male calves. The majority of these would be Angus- and Hereford-sired. The bullocks are brought through to beef, being finished at between 22 and 28 months of age.

Martin Keating, Doon, Westport, Co Mayo

Martin and Marie Keating operate a dairy-calf-to-beef system on their 20ha farm outside Westport in Co Mayo. The system sees Angus and Hereford heifers brought through to beef at the end of the second season at grass. This spring, Martin is expanding the calf-rearing shed, which will allow him to increase numbers to 50 calves this year – all of which will be Angus heifers. Through the use of superior calf genetics coupled with better grassland management, over the past number of years Martin has seen heifer carcase weights increase year on year at the same slaughter age.

New farms for 2021

Michelle Curley, Prosperous, Naas, Co Kildare

Michelle runs a suckler and dairy-beef farm just outside Prosperous in Co Kildare. The family have joined the programme in order to help improve the overall quality of calf that they are rearing as well as hoping to increase the overall profitability of their dairy beef system.

The farm has operated an 80-cow suckler herd over the years, however they are slowly transitioning over to more calf-to-beef systems. The ex-dairy farm has a good network of farm roadways and an extensive paddock system. Michelle hopes to start grass measuring this year to help improve the quality of the sward for cattle throughout the grazing season.

The O’Dwyer family, Coolbawn, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

The O’Dwyer family from Coolbawn in Nenagh have joined the programme with the hopes of improving the overall performance of their dairy-beef system. The farm has been operating a dairy-calf-to-beef system for the past number of years, with over 70 calves reared last year. The family have been purchasing all their calves from one dairy farm up to this point, using mostly Angus genetics.

All cattle are slaughtered off grass at between 18 and 20 months of age. Brothers John and Stephen hope to increase the number of paddocks on farm this year to help improve grazing performance.

Peter and John Doyle, Shillelagh, Co Wicklow

Father and son team Peter and John Doyle run a tillage and dairy beef enterprise on their farm outside Shillelagh in Co Wicklow. The family have been doing dairy calf to beef for a number of years and are constantly trying to improve the system. They join the programme with the view that having calves of known genetics on farm will improve both the liveweight performance and the resulting carcase weight being realised.

John Hally, centre.

Thrive demo farm, Cashel, Co Tipperary

The Irish Farmers Journal Thrive demonstration farm is located on the farm of John Hally, Carron, Cashel, Co Tipperary. The difference between the demo farm and the other Thrive programme farms located around the country is that the cattle on the demo farm are owned by the Irish Farmers Journal.

Like with our beef and sheep enterprises on Tullamore Farm, the Irish Farmers Journal has skin in the game when it comes to needing stock to perform and leave a positive margin at the end of the system. While the 45ha former dairy farm in south Tipperary is of excellent quality which allows for a long grazing season, the greatest asset on farm is John Hally himself. It is his attention to detail and management of every minute aspect of the production system that drives the technical performance on farm.

Each year, 140 calves are purchased and reared on the farm. These are split evenly between bulls and heifers and in recent years have included Angus-, Hereford-, Limousin-, Aubrac- and Belgian Blue-sired animals.

The farm looks to operate a 19– to 20-month system, with cattle slaughtered off grass at the end of the grazing season.

What is becoming apparent as each year passes and we have more data from the farm, is the varying ability of different breeds to be able to meet such a young slaughter age.

In order to hit target carcase weights, animals need to be performing every day they are on farm. In 2020, heifers averaged 280kg carcase weight at 19.7 months while the bullocks averaged 324kg at 20.3 months of age.