People say you need to take risks to make it in business.
Farmers take risks every day through their decision-making, purchase of stock and purchase of inputs.
Sometimes risk pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. Bull beef is risky business.
Across the last 10 years where supply and demand shifted in favour of factories, it’s generally bulls that have been hit first either on price or weight limits.
On the other hand, in times where demand exceeds supply bulls have been a profitable option for farmers. In summer 2020, many Irish processors informed their suppliers that they would not be in a position to accept as many young bulls in the future.
In 2019 we had close to 180,000 young bulls killed at this stage of the year. In 2021 this figure currently stands at 98,401 head
Farmers heeded the advice and on foot of this, the young bull kill has been decimated. In 2019 we had close to 180,000 young bulls killed at this stage of the year. In 2021 this figure currently stands at 98,401 head, an almost halving in the young bull kill inside two years. Farmers weren’t willing to take the risk and get caught and factories won the battle on bull beef.
In summer 2020, Tullamore Farm was in a similar situation to many other young bull producers, asking ourselves the question whether we stick with young bulls or move to bullocks. We weighed up our options with the help of Paul Crossan from Teagasc under a review of the beef system being employed on Tullamore Farm.
Moving to bullocks would mean more sheds and also competition with ewes for grass at the back end of the year
The results of that review process was to stick with young bull beef production as it particularly suited the farming setup and infrastructure on Tullamore Farm.
Moving to bullocks would mean more sheds and also competition with ewes for grass at the back end of the year. In 2021, this was the right decision. Next year could be different but we still feel that whatever hope we have of making money out of bull beef, our chances deteriorate when we look at the alternatives.
Table 1 outlines the 2021 slaughter profile of the 44 young bulls on Tullamore Farm. It’s a very simple system. Bull calves have an average date of birth of 10 March similar to any spring-calving suckler system. They are weaned in October and housed in November.
Bulls gained 1.33kg/day up to 200 days of age and then gained just over 1kg/day from September to January. They were fed the highest-quality silage on the farm during this time (round bales off paddocks) to reduce the amount of concentrates fed.
Bulls get 2-3kg up until January and then they are stepped up to increased concentrate feeding, moving to ad lib by end of February/early March.
Average bull price in 2021 was €1,666, an increase of €282/head on the 2020 bull price of €1,384
Typical lifetime concentrate intake ranges from 1.5-1.6t/head. Average carcase weight in 2021 was 384kg. We would liked this to be closer to 400kg and we have been trying to pull back our calving date to achieve this.
Average bull price in 2021 was €1,666, an increase of €282/head on the 2020 bull price of €1,384. Average carcase grade was U=3-. In terms of breeds, there was little difference in terms of performance, with the Charolais bulls coming in at the highest price in 2021. Simmentals finished 10 days earlier than the Charolais and Limousin while the Salers took 10 days longer to finish.
The small number of Aberdeen Angus bulls were killed 20 days earlier than the continentals. Ration costs in 2021 were similar to 2020 at €400/head. This will increase by €60-€80/head in 2022.
Table 2 outlines the summary slaughter details for the last four years on Tullamore Farm.