Thrive programme farmer Diarmuid Murray, who is also on the Macra ag affairs committee, hosted a farm walk as part of Macra’s young farmer development group walk and talk series.
The walk concentrated on the farm's dairy calf-to-beef enterprise, which sees them bring all progeny from their 130-cow dairy herd through to beef.
The farm uses 100% AI on the dairy herd and since joining the Thrive programme in 2019, Diarmuid has been using high beef value DBI Angus sires to try to improve the beef characteristics of the dairy-beef stock.
Strong Friesian background
On beef semen use, Diarmuid said: “While most of the beef semen would be used later in the breeding season, I also use it on cows that I know I don’t want to keep replacements from, even if they are early in the breeding season.
"The herd here would still have a strong British Friesian background, although we are using Holstein genetics over the last few years.
“I suppose we are more aware of maintaining a cow base that has a bit of frame to it, maybe more so than if we were selling all the calves.”
The beef enterprise works for the farm, as there is a separate out-block of ground that extends to 70 acres away from the main farm where the dairy herd is run.
One of the biggest challenges for the Murrays is to have all stock slaughtered prior to the second winter period.
While the building of additional winter housing last year has offered more scope when it comes to winter accommodation, the bulk of the stock need to be gone prior to housing time.
This means that heifers and bullocks are slaughtered from 17 to 20 months of age off grass.
Currently, the Angus heifers are averaging 440kg and the bullocks are 460kg. They are receiving just less than 4kg/day meal at grass during the finishing phase.
Last year, the dairy-beef heifers averaged a carcase weight of just over 250kg, while the bullocks came in at 280kg.
“The Angus heifers usually grade between an O+ and an R- and the bullocks generally have no issue grading an R-. The Friesian bullocks would mostly be O grading.
"Looking at the heifers, I would say we are about a fortnight away from the our first draft being slaughtered.”
Diarmuid suggested to the group that dairy-beef systems need to be well managed if they are to return a positive margin.
“Grassland management is the big one – I manage the dairy-beef cattle the same as the dairy cows. You need to be grazing leafy swards all year.
"The system suits our farm. There are things we could be doing a bit better, but we try to improve every year.
"Labour in springtime is an issue - it can be very busy when calving 130 cows and trying to manage the dairy-beef enterprise.
"I purchased a scales this year to help me track performance a bit closer and already I am seeing the benefit of having it.
"I recently weighed this year’s calves and split them out into three groups. The lightest batch are getting a bit more meal with the hope that we can improve liveweight gain over the next few weeks in this group.”
Also on the night, former Macra president and now vice-president of the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) Thomas Duffy outlined to the group the latest developments with the new CAP proposals from a young farmer standpoint.
On a positive note, Duffy said that 3% of direct payments will be allocated to young farmers through generational renewal - an increase of 1% on the previous CAP budget.
He also made clear the need for continued support for young farmers through schemes such as TAMS, which he said is delivering value for money for the Department, with young farmers accounting for just 6% of all farmers, yet they drew down over 12% of all TAMS money, showing their willingness to invest in the sector for the future.
Duffy also urged young farmers to voice their opinions on the current Department of Agriculture CAP consultations, stressing that it was important that the voice of young farmers was heard loud and clear to help secure the best possible outcome of the current CAP negotiations.