In bull beef systems you depend on good weight gains to achieve under-16-month bull performance targets. If poor weight gains are recorded, margins in an already financially tight system will be negative.

Factory sentiment on bulls has changed over the last couple of years, with delays in killing bulls in 2018 and 2019 making farmers consider other options for male progeny on beef farms.

This led to a drop of 70,000 young bulls being killed in 2020, with further contraction expected in 2021. This has meant many smaller bull producers have been looking at other options and selling live is one of these.

Table 1 (below) outlines the target weights and weight gains in an under-16-month bull beef system.

In terms of breed performance, the Simmentals are out in front, with the 12 QCD calves coming in at 443kg. There are six LM2116 bull weanlings weighing 428kg.

There are 12 Fiston-sired calves weighing 418kg and nine Salers calves weighing 387kg. The average date of birth of the bulls is 03/03/2020.

Most of the Simmental progeny are sired by Cloondroon Calling (QCD), the Limousins are sired by Tomschoice Ironstone (LM2116) and Castleview Gazelle (ZAG), the Charolais are all sired by Fiston (FSZ), while the Salers are sired by the Salers stock bull and Ulsan (SA22189).

Figure 2 outlines bull performance from birth up to 14 January 2021. Bulls gained 1.33kg/day up to 200 days and then gained just over 1kg/day from September to January.

This is back a little on last year’s performance but over the last month bulls have grown well which should stand to them during the finishing phase.

Their current daily liveweight gain for their lifetime is 1.18kg/day. The average weight of the 44 bulls on 14 January 2021 was 421kg.

Weighing is critical at all stages of the production system to determine if corrective action is required. Last year’s bulls went on higher meal feeding at an earlier stage.

We found that bulls almost came to finish a little too quickly and this meant a lower average carcase weight of 374kg/head last year.

The aim this year is to get bulls to 700kg at slaughter to push the carcase weight to 400kg and maximise carcase value.

This has meant keeping weanlings on the grower ration for longer to grow more frame before the finishing phase.

Bulls have currently consumed 454kg of meal in their lifetime, with this expected to rise to 1.65t of concentrates per bull.

\ Ramona Farrelly

Bull ration

The weanling ration that the bulls are currently on is 16% protein and consists of rolled barley, beet pulp, maize distillers, flaked maize, soya bean meal and molasses.

The bulls are on 6kg/day along with ad-lib first-cut silage. They will be stepped up on to the finishing ration over the next month and will gradually move to ad-lib feeding.

Other management

Bulls are housed on slats with rubber mats and were dosed in November with a pour-on for lice and worms.

They were also clipped and have been vaccinated for pneumonia (IBR, RSV and PI3) prior to weaning.

The feeding system is kept as simple as possible, with concentrates fed on top of silage. Once bulls move to ad-lib feeding, silage will be replaced with straw.

To sell or to finish

It never pays to switch systems too much but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look at alternative ways of selling of finishing cattle.

This week we took a look at the option of selling the bulls live as opposed to finishing them.

With just 454kg of concentrate being consumed by the bulls to date, the expensive period is just about to begin with the bulls starting on the ad-lib meal phase of feeding.

Over the next 100-120 days the bulls will consume over 1.2t/meal/head and with the finishing ration costing €270/t we need to be sure the figures add up when the bulls are hanging up.

Current value

Looking at this week’s MartBids table in the Irish Farmers Journal the average bull in the 400-450kg bracket was making €2.35/kg while the top third were making €2.66/kg.

The Tullamore bulls are probably a high average in terms of quality, just shy of the top third, so we have put the price in at €2.50/kg.

Table 2 outlines the bull budget from here to finish and compares that with current sale value.

It’s important to point out that this is just a budget from 1 February to 30 June and not a whole life budget.

Comment: slim margins and price uncertainty make it a tricky business

Looking at the figures, the under-16-month bull finishing system is a very tight margin business.

This will be the fourth year we will have finished the male progeny as bulls and margins have been getting tighter and tighter since the first bulls were killed in 2018.

Tullamore Farm has almost €50,000 tied up in stock in a shed that require a further investment of almost €20,000 to bring to finish

At the moment, young bulls are making €3.75/kg deadweight plus a quality assurance payment of €0.12/kg on the grid.

You would hope that the price will be well ahead of this come June 2021 but that word “hope” is the core problem with the beef finishing business.

Tullamore Farm has almost €50,000 tied up in stock in a shed that require a further investment of almost €20,000 to bring to finish.

Like many other small-scale cattle finishers, we will do this with absolutely no idea or foresight of what beef price we will get in June 2021.

We have spoken to the factory and they have no issue killing bulls as long as they are in spec with good flesh and under the desired carcase weight limits.

We have made the decision to finish the bulls this year but its back to the drawing board for the 2021-born progeny and over the next few months we will take a look at what other options are available to the farm to increase margins.