Emmanuel Roux is a beef farmer from Bruc-sur-Aff, located 88km outside of Nantes, France. The last year has been a positive one for beef production in this region of France.

However, with the increase in feed costs, high rainfall and nitrogen regulations, Emmanuel says farmers are still facing many challenges.

The farm enterprise was in dairy production up until 11 years ago. In 2013, Emmanuel stopped milking and switched to beef production, as he had a different shareholder who had other ideas for the business. They went their separate ways and he then joined forces with Benoir Texier, a neighbour who bought a farm 6km up the road, to become a shareholder, which resulted in a 50/50 partnership split. There are 350 fattening bulls in one unit and 250 bulls in the other. Benoir lives on the other farm, but they operate as one enterprise and share all resources.

Beef production

The pedigree Limousins arrive on the farm at eight months of age, with vaccinations and clipping done prior to arrival. They have to go through 15 days of quarantine on-site.

Each animal’s weight is taken and their average daily gain is monitored. The fully indoor system is co-operative led, alongside Terenna Co-op, which has over 20,000 members. Terenna Co-op has a specific procurement department that sources and allocates cattle to specific farms in the group. They spend eight to nine months on the farm, which means they are finished at 16 to 18 months. Their liveweight gain is 1.6kg/day.

Benoir and Emmanuel used to grow and fatten Charolais cattle in the past, but they prefer the Limousin breed, as it is more suitable to their diet and bottom line. With regard to feed, the cattle are given approximately 11kg of dry matter per animal a day, which is made up of 300g of straw, 6kg of maize silage and 4.5kg of ration. The farm also uses 150g of palm oil to increase their energy supply to aid the finishing process. Some neighbouring farms use grass silage for fattening, but Benoir and Emmanuel don’t use it on this farm, as the quality tends to be poorer.

France has already announced its aim to reduce herd sizes via the National Low-Carbon Strategy for agriculture, published in June 2021, which targets a 13% reduction by 2030.

Emmanuel and Benoir have no plans to expand the herd – they are expecting to finish 800 head this year.

At the moment, they are getting €5.45/kg deadweight. Carcase weight, on average, is 450kg, resulting in an average price of €2,452/head. Feed costs are coming in at €2.50/kg, with the average animal costing €1,125/head to finish off feed.

Last year, they experienced a mortality rate of 4%. As a result, they decided to invest in a better-ventilated shed with wooden beams, so the animals would have a better adaptation period.

To improve immunity and reduce stress, they added 100ml/animl/day of propylene glycol in the water. This is used solely to condition the rumen during the intensive finishing period and to prevent acidosis.

Most of the housing units have good ventilation, with mesh panelling that moves up and down using an automated system. Ventilation is key in preventing pneumonia, that can thrive within the sheds.

Land usage

The farm has a total of 180ha. Forty hectares are owned and the rest is rented. The price of land in the area is €3,000/ha to buy and €140/ha to lease.

One unique part of production in France is most farms have mixed enterprises. This farm grows its own crops for feed.

They use 80ha of land for maize production, 65ha for wheat which is sold and 25ha for oil seed rape. They buy an extra 350t of straw each year from the field and have to go and collect it themselves. They are very involved in legumes, so they have an agreement to keep five or six hectares aside for growing peas for human consumption. A tradition seen in France, which Emmanuel and Benoir implement, is buying larger machinery with neighbouring farmers. This shareholding means each farm can use the equipment when they need it, but the price is shared evenly.

More marginal areas are cut for hay and the farm is required under government policy to have 5% of the land margin as grass.

This year, Emmanuel said the crops were a month late going into the ground due to the heavy rainfall all year. The farm is at high risk of lower yields, particularly for wheat production. The exact amount of crop loss won’t be known for another few weeks, but a significant decline could impact exports from the country.

Feed units

Feed is being bought at €280/t for their finishing nuts, but with the cost of feed and purchasing an animal on average for €1,200/head, margins are tight.

The cost of feed alone is working out at €2.50/kg of carcase weight, inclusive of straw bought in and labour.

The beef price is currently sitting at €5.45/kg.

The farm has two finishing sheds, with animals receiving a total mixed ration (TMR) diet.

The farm also employs a zero-grazing system.

Nitrogen limits

A big issue facing the farm, and in neighbouring areas at the moment, is having enough space to spread manure.

Stocking density isn’t as intense as we have in Ireland.

They are currently looking for extra hectares to comply with regulations with regard to slurry spreading.

With the same difficulties as at home, in this area farmers are limited to 170kg of nitrogen per hectare.

They don’t have an issue with phosphorus.

They pay a contracting company to come in and take away 3,500t of manure and spread it on the land, as the machinery is expensive and it would take too much time for them to spread themselves.

Terenna Co-op

Terrena has worked for the interests of its farming members since the late 1800s. Terrena is one of the leading agricultural and agri-food players in France and the parent company of an agri-food group.

Today it has over 20,000 farmer members and 13,587 employees who make up the co-operative.

Solar PV

A large difference in the farm structures across France is their use of solar in most enterprises. Emmanuel and Benoir have 1,600m2 of solar panels on their beef farm buildings and they sell the electricty that is generated. New shed panels were installed in recent weeks and the panels on the older shed are six years old. It depends on the price agreed when they are installed, but they get paid 11c for 1kwh on the old shed and 14c for 1kwh on the new shed.

In brief

  • Purebred Limousins are a popular beef production breed in the west of France.
  • Their liveweight gain is 1.6kg a day.
  • Farmers in this region are limited to 170kg of N/ha.
  • The farm has a total of 180ha.
  • They have a requirement under a policy to have 5% of the land margin as grass.
  • Beef farmers Benoir Texier and Emmanuel Roux, with their adviser, Stephen.

    Inside the new shed of the beef-finishing unit.

    Inside the new shed of the beef finishing unit.

    Maize silage on the farm.

    The 11kg of dry matter feed given to each animal every day. This is made up of 300g of straw, 6kg of maize silage and 4.5kg of ration.

    Mesh ventilation side panels on the new shed.

    Solar PV on the shed units.