The number of calves on the move to beef-rearing farms is set to dramatically increase over the next few weeks.

When done well, a dairy calf-to-beef system can complement a suckler or sheep system quite well in terms of labour input and can help increase the overall farm output.

However, with rising input costs currently being felt on farm, this is not the year to enter into a calf-to-beef system without giving it serious consideration.

Even those that have been doing it for the past number of years and have a good handle on both the system, animal performance and the costs involved will need to scrutinise the figures before investing in the usual number of calves this year.


Sitting down and doing out a budget simply must be step number one this year. If you plan to invest money into these animals and bring them through to slaughter, you will be looking at them for at least the next 18 months to two years.

That is a long time to have money tied up in a system so you need to know if you will get a return on your investment.

While we cannot predict what the price of beef will be when these animals come to the point of slaughter, we can figure out what price we will require to make a margin by adding up all our input costs.

Be realistic in your costings. If your winter period is typically six months then there is no point in costing it in for four in the hopes of favourable grazing condition this autumn and spring next year.

Likewise with daily liveweight gain targets – we may aim for doing 1.2kg/day at grass, but in reality, even with very good grassland management these type of stock are doing very well if they grow in excess of a 1kg/day over an entire grazing season.

Where the system has been in place on farm for the last few years, use your cattle’s performance figures to forecast costings for the year ahead.

Costs to include

Above is a sample budget based on last year’s Angus and Hereford heifers on the Thrive Demonstration Farm in Cashel, Co Tipperary. All costs are on a per-head basis.

The performance figures are based on actual heifer performance while the costings have being adapted for this years estimated figures.

While not included in the table, farmers should include a mortality figure as unfortunately there will be some losses along the way and these need to be accounted for in the budget.

Well-run systems will be hitting less than 2% mortality but if it is your first time rearing calves a 5% figure might be more realistic.