On Tuesday 15 September at 8pm, the Irish Farmers Journal will host a virtual open evening from its Thrive, dairy calf-to-beef demonstration farm in Cashel, Co Tipperary.

The Thrive programme aims to demonstrate best practice for dairy calf-to-beef systems through the use of higher genetic merit AI-sired beef calves combined with a high level of technical efficiency in terms of grassland management, silage quality, finishing strategies and animal health.

Beef editor Adam Woods and livestock specialist Declan Marren will give viewers an update from the demonstration farm where there are currently 140 spring 2020-born and 140 spring 2019-born animals at grass. The farm operates a 19- to 21-month finishing system and currently the 2019-born heifers and bullocks are receiving meal at pasture with the first animals to be drafted for slaughter in the coming days.

There are 140, spring 2020-born calves on the farm.

Discussions will centre around four key areas of a dairy calf-to-beef production system including calf rearing, genetics, grassland management and finishing strategies.

Deputy editor Jack Kennedy will be joined by industry experts from the programme stakeholders, ICBF, Bord Bia, Kerry Agribusiness, Aurivo, Dovea Genetics, Progressive Genetics and Munster Bovine to discuss more industry-wide issues associated with dairy calf-to-beef systems.

Calf rearing

A good start to life is of utmost importance if dairy calf-to-beef systems are to be successful. The calf-rearing stage is the highest risk period in terms of sickness and mortality. Attention to detail in the calf rearing shed is a must. The calf-rearing protocol on the demonstration farm from arrival through to weaning and turnout to grass will be discussed. Calf housing, bedding, group size, health and vaccination protocols, as well as nutrition and rearing costs, will also be outlined.

Grassland management

Good grassland management is a key component of a profitable dairy calf-to-beef production system. Maximising the proportion of grazed grass in the animal’s total lifetime diet should be priority number one. This is only possible through good grazing infrastructure, farm roadways and regular grass measuring.

Spring 2019-born finishing heifers on the Thrive demonstration farm are currently getting 3kg meal at grass.

We will talk to one of the Thrive programme farmers who has taken steps to improve his grassland management skills and infrastructure over the last number of years.


All calves in the Thrive programme, whether they are on the demonstration farm or one of the programme farms across the country, are from known AI sires. These sires are selected based on their dairy beef index (DBI) figures. The DBI is a tool for both dairy and beef farmers to use to identify beef sires that can deliver good beef characteristics such as carcase weight and carcase conformation, without having to compromise on important traits to the dairy farmer, such as calving ease and gestations length.

The sire list for spring 2021 has already been decided upon prior to this year’s breeding season. Sires were selected using a balanced approach between wanting a high beef sub-index, and carcase weight figure while keeping an eye on calving sub-index.

In 2020, two Aubrac sires were included, while for 2021 there are three Charolais bulls on the list

After all, there is no point in selecting sires that dairy farmers are not going to use in significant numbers. For 2021 calves, the sire list has an average carcase weight figure of +16.6kg, an average beef sub-index of €87 and an average dairy cow calving difficulty figure of 4.9%.

The breeds used in 2019 include Angus, Hereford, Limousin and Belgian Blue. In 2020, two Aubrac sires were included, while for 2021 there are three Charolais bulls on the list.

Knowing the sire is of great benefit but it is also important to know what the type of cow the calf is coming off. All calves in the programme are bought directly from known dairy farms.

Finishing options

There are numerous end points that can be chosen when deciding on a dairy calf-to-beef system. The Thrive demonstration farm operates a 19- to 21-month finishing system, slaughtering cattle from pasture at the end of the second grazing season.

On Tuesday evening, we will discuss why the farm has opted for a 19- to 21-month system

Currently, a batch of finishing bullocks are receiving 4kg of concentrate at pasture, while finishing heifers are on 3kg concentrate a day. The first of these animals will be drafted for slaughter in the coming days.

On Tuesday evening, we will discuss why the farm has opted for a 19- to 21-month system, lifetime performance of animals throughout the system, options for feeding meal at grass, target carcase weights for both steers and heifers, as well as costings of the finishing phase and entire production system economics.

If you have five or 500 dairy-beef calves on your farm, this is an event not to be missed. Tune in on Tuesday 15 September from 8pm on www.ifj.ie/thrive.