It is fair to say that 2021 has been quite a difficult year in terms of grass growth for Diarmuid Murray in Knockcroghery, Co Roscommon.

Farming alongside his father Sean and uncle Seamus, the family runs a herd of 130 dairy cows alongside a dairy calf-to-beef enterprise that sees all progeny born on the farm brought through to beef.

“Apart from two weeks of high growth rates in early June, grass has been very slow here for almost the entire grazing season.

“The majority of our ground would be quite dry and can suffer during periods of low rainfall,” Diarmuid explains.

Diarmuid Murray.

“When the burst of growth came in early June, we cut a nice bit of grazing ground for silage, as it had gone ahead of stock. Little did we know, we would then get almost a month without any rainfall whatsoever, which really affected regrowth on these paddocks. That has left things rather tight over the last few weeks.

“While we would normally supplement the finishing cattle at grass at this time of year anyway, we had to increase meal feeding in order to slow down the rotation.”

We are quite heavily stocked here, so an early slaughter age system is the only option for us

The beef system on the farm sees all stock slaughtered off grass at between 17 and 19 months of age. The main reason behind this is that there isn’t the housing facilities to accommodate stock for a second winter period.

“We are quite heavily stocked here, so an early slaughter age system is the only option for us. Grass growth in the last few weeks got to a stage where the regrowth just wasn’t good enough to keep the finishing stock out. The average farm cover was depleting every week when I did the grass walk. Slowing down the rotation wasn’t enough given the low level of growth, so we housed stock about two weeks ago.”

Since housing, Diarmuid has debated keeping cattle in and finishing them out of the shed, however grass growth has improved and there are 25ac of aftergrass coming back available for grazing, so the majority of Angus cattle will be turned out and finished off grass plus 3kg meal throughout August and September.

This year's Angus calves at grass on the beef grazing block.

“We weighed the cattle here last week. The Angus heifers were 421kg on average, while the bullocks weighed 448kg. I am happy with the weights overall, performance has been maintained, albeit at a greater cost with meal feeding.

“There is quite a range in weights when you look within the group, with almost 150kg between the heaviest and lightest animal. Obviously, there is always going to be a range, but I want to sit down and look at the breeding behind the lightest group and see if there is any sire effect.”

Finishing period

Looking at the stock, they are well warmed up already and the heaviest of the Angus cattle should be ready to be drafted by early August.

The heifers are on 3.5kg, while the bullocks are getting almost 5kg of a high-maize finishing ration.

Alongside the Angus cattle are the Friesian bullocks, which have also been housed for finishing

“Beef prices are good at the minute, but it is where it needs to be. A lot of our input costs are well up on last year as well, so when all is said and done, the margin might not be that different,” explained Diarmuid.

“Alongside the Angus cattle are the Friesian bullocks, which have also been housed for finishing. These cattle have more frame to them and could handle an extra kilo of meal compared to the Angus.”

When feeding multiple breed types, you need to know that they are very different animals and will respond differently when offered a finishing diet. With the Angus, you need to be constantly watching the fat score, as they can go overfat very quickly when they are on a concentrate diet. This is especially true for the heifers – they can go from not being finished to being overfat in the space of 10 days. Regular drafting is required.

Sires used

Diarmuid carries out all the AI work himself and uses a mix of both Dovea and Progressive Genetics (NCBC) sires on the herd.

The current finishing stock relate back to the 2019 breeding season and so even in this timeframe, some of the bulls used then would no longer satisfy the criteria of the Thrive programme.

Sires are selected using the dairy beef index (DBI) and must have a value of beef figure of over €50 and a positive carcase weight figure.

This year’s finishing stock are sired by Angus bulls such as:

  • St Aodan L Master (AA2309) – DBI €60, value of beef €53 and a carcase weight figure of +12.3kg.
  • Liss Brendan (AA2163) – DBI €61, value of beef €38 and a carcase weight of +3.5kg.
  • Lisduff Red Pepper (AA4303) – DBI €92, value of beef €63 and a carcase weight of +12.2kg.
  • Intelagri Matteo (AA4089) – DBI €109, value of beef €46 and a carcase weight of +6.4kg.
  • Commenting on this year’s breeding season, Diarmuid says he has used all Angus again, as they are performing well and there is a demand for the cattle from processors when it comes to the point of slaughter.

    Sires such as Tree Bridge Powys (AA4323), with a DBI of €58, value of beef of €82 and a carcase weight figure of +19.2kg, and Kealkil Prime Lad (AA4743) with a DBI of €128, value of beef of €58 and a carcase weight of +9.2kg, have been widely used.

    2021 calves

    This year’s calves are doing well at grass. Housing the finishing stock will reduce the grazing pressure for the calves over the coming weeks. They received a worm dose last week and continue to get 1kg/day concentrate at grass.

    Diarmuid concludes: “I am happy with how the calves are looking. I hope to weigh them in the coming weeks just to get a better feel for liveweight gains. They are all running in batches of around 35. I don’t like having many more than that in a group, as I feel the smaller ones start to suffer in bigger groups.”