Brian Geraghty runs a mixed-enterprise farm on 52ha of leased land outside the village of Dysart in Co Roscommon.

Currently, he is running a dairy-to-beef enterprise which sees Angus heifers slaughtered off grass at the end of the second grazing season.

Alongside this, Brian is contract-rearing over 100 yearling dairy heifers and their followers for a dairy farmer in Co Galway.

Weighing cattle

Last week, the 36 Angus heifers were in for a midsummer weighing to see how they have performed since turnout in late March.

Looking at the average weight of 383kg, the heifers are behind target for a September slaughter date. However, there are a number of April-born calves that are pulling the overall average down.

Last spring, Brian purchased 60 calves in March and a further 30 in mid-April.

He says: “You definitely see the difference between a March – and April-born calf at this stage. I knew that there would be this difference and it was reflected in the purchase price last spring with March-born calves bought at €160 on average, while the April calves came in at €120.

Brian has upgraded the handling facilities on the farm over the last year.

“With the current variance in weight between the two groups, the €40 difference in price is going to be spent on additional meal to get them over the line – it is hard to beat the earlier-born calf from that point of view.

“Since turnout, the heifers have done just over 1kg/day so I am happy with that. They also performed well over the winter. Where they maybe fell behind is during the wet weather last autumn when grazing conditions were difficult in the runup to housing.”

Looking solely at the March-born heifers, the average weight is 406kg and given another 90 days, which will include a three – or four-week period of meal feeding prior to slaughter, these heifers should still come into a carcase weight of between 265kg and 270kg which will be almost identical to last year’s performance.

“Last year we would have been working with all March-born calves and they were all slaughtered off grass by early October. It will be interesting to see how we go with the few lighter heifers this year.

“I don’t want to re-house them for finishing, if possible, as housing space is at a premium on the farm,” Brian says.

Beef trade

With the beef trade on a positive trajectory, Brian is very hopeful that this year’s heifers will come into an additional €150 to €180 compared to last year’s heifers.

“That is a huge difference across a batch of 36 heifers. I know input prices such as fertiliser and meal have also gone up but the lifetime meal input into these heifers will only be around 350kg.”

In April of this year, 60 Angus heifers were sold as yearlings rather than bringing them through to slaughter.

“There were a number of reasons for selling off some of the yearling heifers. Firstly, I had just organised a contract-rearing arrangement with a dairy farmer in Galway. I wouldn’t have had enough grass or enough time to look after everything. Prices for those Angus-type heifers were very good at the time and when I did the sums, I was as well off selling at that stage as bringing them through to beef. I didn’t sell the best of the heifers but a good average of what we had.”

2021 calves

No beef calves were purchased by Brian this year. With calf prices this spring running €20 to €30 ahead of last year, Brian didn’t see any value in purchasing calves.

“I was lucky that I wasn’t in the situation whereby I simply had to go and buy calves – that is a benefit of having more than one enterprise on farm.

The batch of heifers in for weighing and a worm dose last week.

“I just didn’t think that they were worth the extra money that they were making. I was doing my sums on the beef price I received last autumn of around €3.80/kg. Perhaps if I was doing it on this year’s price I would have bought, but who knows where we will be this time next year?”

Contract rearing

Contract rearing offers Brian the benefit of a diversified revenue stream and an improved cashflow.

“There are both pluses and minuses to it. The cashflow is a big one, as is the fact that there is no capital investment required.

“I am working on leased ground so the land has to be able to pay for itself and carry the stock required to do so.

“The downside of contract rearing is that there is very little security from one year to the next. It is important to build up the relationship between dairy farmer and rearer in order for it to work.

“Really, it is similar to what we are trying to do in the Thrive programme with building links between farmers in order for everyone to benefit in the long term.”

Grass supply

Grass supply on the farm is good at the moment, the little rain that fell last week was enough to kick on grass growth once again with an average growth figure of 77kg DM/ha recorded over the last two weeks.

Demand is currently at 46kgDM/ha. All the grazing ground received a bag of pasture sward last weekend ahead of the rainfall.

CAP reform

Commenting on the proposed new CAP deal, Brian says: “How exactly it will tally still remains to be seen. It will be important that there is a favourable environmental scheme available to farmers in order to reclaim as much of the 25% cut to the direct payment as possible.

Overall, I think we needed reform. I don’t think it is right that what you produced 20 years ago is still having an effect today.

“For new entrants like myself who don’t have a family farm to inherit I think it’s only right that everyone gets a fair chance and a more even playing field.”