Many of the programme farmers were hoping to have started rearing calves at this stage, with sheds ready and waiting for calves to arrive.

However, exceptionally strong calf prices seen over the past few weeks have meant the programme is yet to purchase calves in any great numbers.

This week saw calf prices increase by an average of €13/head across the board. Within this, heifer prices seem to be getting the greatest price lift.

As a result, the programme farmers are holding off purchases for now, as they simply do not see a return on investment.

Demonstration farm

In this week’s Irish Farmers Journal, the Thrive article looks at the financial performance of the 2019-born stock that were slaughtered from September 2020 through to January of this year.

Although performance throughout the system was excellent and had a high level of technical efficiency, the farm struggled to leave a positive net margin.

In 2019, early-maturing heifers averaged a purchase price of €160 at three weeks old, while late-maturing types were being purchased at €260 at the same age.

This year, calves of the same age are averaging €205 and €296 respectively. In order for these calves to leave a €100/head net margin at the end of the system, they would require a beef price of €4.35/kg and €4.55/kg respectively.

Admittedly, late-maturing type numbers remain small on the ground and there are clearly some heifer calves being purchased as potential suckler cow replacements.

Remember that the Thrive demonstration farm runs a 19-month system, where heifers are slaughtered off grass and meal at the end of the second grazing season.

If we were to bring these through to 24 months, slaughtered out of the shed, a further 10c/kg to 12c/kg would be required.

Similarly for steers, at current calf prices of €235 and €288 for three week old, early- and late-maturing calves respectively, a beef price of €4.20/kg to €4.25/kg would be required, in order to leave a €100/head gross margin on the demo farm based on last year’s production costs.

It is hoped that with a greater number of beef calves coming on stream over the next fortnight, calf price will come back in-line with recent years and purchasing can commence.