Watch: a good start on the Redstart in Laois
Out-wintering on Redstart has got off to the perfect start for Harry and Joe Lalor in Laois. James Dunne reports.

For Co Laois Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge participants Joe and Harry Lalor, their first time out-wintering cattle on Redstart is going well so far.

With a total of 13ac of Redstart sown, the father-and-son pair have 71 cattle out on the crop at present; 66 weanling heifers and five cull cows.

For feed-out, the fence is being moved two yards twice daily while a bale of silage is also being allocated once daily to ensure fibre is maintained in the diet.

Problems with heifers going under the strip-wire have been rectified by putting a bracket on the temporary fencing stakes and running a second poly-wire along the feed face.

While the crop was being sown, a 30ft strip of headland was left outside the cattle to make access the round feeder easier when delivering the bale of silage. This has worked very well keeping ground damage from heavy machinery to a minimum.

Sowing

The crop was sown by direct-drilling on 1 August after a crop of silage was harvested. The direct drilling method resulted in no disturbance of the sod by simply cutting a slot in the ground and then dropping the seed into that slot.

Harry explained his thinking behind using the direct-drilling method: “We burned off the grass after the silage was cut and sowed the Redstart by direct drilling. It works very well now having the bit of grass coming up with the crop because it keeps the soil structure in place.”

The field only got two bags of 22.7-2.5-5 fertiliser/ac during sowing as it was felt that nutrient levels in the soil would be good as a result of the 18:6:12 for the silage crop.

All cattle were bolused before going on to the crop to help eliminate any problems with copper or iodine deficiencies.

To manage the changeover from grass to brassicas, cattle were eased on to the Redstart for around five days, only getting five or six hours per day.

Once they were waiting to get back into it, they were kept there permanently.

Faster growing

The Lawlors also have another 14ac of rape, which was sown on stubble ground. This was sown late, around 10 September, as the barley crop was late getting harvested.

The decision was taken to sow rape as opposed to Redstart as it is a faster growing crop.

All going well, the rape should be at a suitable height for feeding out by the time the Redstart has been grazed.

The Lalors made use of the Fodder Production Incentive Scheme, which allocated €100/ha for sowing catch crops such as rape and Redstart after tillage crops. It is hoped the crops will last until the end of January and, after that, the cattle will go out to grass before first-cut silage fertiliser is applied.

BETTER farm: remembering quality as well as quantity
This week, Matthew Halpin looks at the results of the silage samples taken on the BETTER Farm beef challenge farms recently.

By now, farmers across the country are probably worn out at the thoughts of completing fodder budgets and listening to advice around measuring and managing silage stocks and winter feed demand. With much of the focus in recent months being directed at the quantity of silage in the yard, one element that has possibly been forgotten about is the need to test for silage quality.

But why is this important? Well think of it this way: every dairy farmer certainly knows the protein content of their dairy nut for example. And every beef farmer will more than likely know the protein and energy value of their beef ration too. Furthermore, it goes without saying that silage is probably the number one component in winter diets across beef, dairy and sheep farms in Ireland meaning there is no good reason why you shouldn’t know its feeding value too.

Silage sampling on the BETTER Farms

As part of the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge, all participants must take silage samples at the beginning of each winter. The importance of taking silage samples this year is perhaps even greater than other years due to difficulties experienced on many farms as a consequence of the extreme weather conditions. Once silage sample results have been received, each participant will have the chance to formulate winter diets accordingly, with the help of their local B&T adviser and their BETTER farm programme advisor. In many cases this can go a long way in reducing quantities of silage or meal offered to animals or in improving animal performance.

Analysis

Table 1 gives the average result of first-cut and second-cut silage samples across the entire group of participant farms. This table alone suggests that both first and second cuts are in-or-around where they need to be. DMD is perhaps the figure that most people will look to first. With average DMD sitting at just under 70% and 69% for first and second cuts, respectively, there is certainly room for improvement. Obliviously some are making the desired 70% plus DMD silage, but there is also a strong cohort still below the magic 70% DMD figure. Going forward, to get the majority of BETTER farms to optimum silage quality, this average DMD figure will need to rise above 72-73%.

It is also worth commenting on the difference in DM% which pretty much reflects the conditions experienced during 2018. First-cut silage averaged a reasonably high 29% DM across all BETTER farms, however, the almost 33% DM average recorded for second-cuts on these farms is remarkably high, but an expected result given the drought conditions towards the latter part of the grass growing season.

Silage sample measures explained

Dry matter (%):

This is the amount of matter remaining after all water has been removed. The energy and protein value of silage is quoted in %DM. The higher the DM, the higher the intake of energy and protein will be for every 1kg of fresh weight silage an animal eats. In general lower DM silage will have lower intakes and higher DM silage will have higher intakes.

pH:

A well preserved silage should have a pH of between 3.8 and 4.5. You can get away with a dry, high-pH silage, however, a wet silage with a high pH, will not keep as well and usually intakes will be low. If pH is below 3.8, this can lead to acidic conditions, a sharp smell and a higher risk of acidosis.

Ammonia-N levels (% of total N):

High ammonia levels show poor preservation. This can be due to high grass nitrogen levels at cutting or low sugar possibly from wet, young grass being cut. Values of <5% indicate excellent preservation, while >15% will lead to reduced intakes.

Crude protein (%):

This measures the protein concentration of the silage. Young leafy reseeded swards will have higher protein values. Inadequate fertiliser applications can lead to lower protein levels.

Values >15% indicate young leafy swards. Too high of a crude protein value (17% +) can be a sign that a good portion of the plant’s protein will be rapidly degradable and thus not easily utilised.

Also, feeding very high crude protein silages during breeding is not advised.

ME (MJ/kg):

This is the amount of energy in the silage. Young grass will have the highest energy while mature grass will have lowest energy. The younger and dryer the grass, the more energy the silage will supply for milk production in suckler cows and liveweight gain in beef stock.

DMD value (%):

DMD stands for dry matter digestibility. This is a measure of the feeding value of the silage expressed as a percentage. Late cut, old swards can have a DMD as low as 55DMD while excellent leafy silage can be > 75DMD. Silage with a high DMD will be digested quicker and lead to higher intakes.

Dry matter: 20-30%

pH: 4-4.5

Ammonia-N: <10.1

Crude protein: 13.5-17%

ME (Energy): >9.8

DMD: >70%

Watch: Scotland hosts BETTER Farm study tour
Last week, the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm beef challenge participants visited Edinburgh, Scotland

The Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge’s annual study took place in Scotland last week.

Touching down in Edinburgh airport on Tuesday afternoon last, a farm tour and a visit to AgriScot agricultural show were squeezed-in before departing for home once again on Thursday afternoon.

Farm tour

Ewan Smith hosted the 26-person group of visiting farmers on his farm on Tuesday evening. Ewan farms 600ac of tillage in East Lothian, just outside Edinburgh, however, the farm also has a feedlot which finishes between 400 and 500 cattle annually.

Ewan’s system is very much in the minority in that area of Scotland.

Given the high quality of the land, much of the efforts in the area are focused on arable farming. Dairy also plays a big part.

Roughly speaking, the ratio of dairy and beef farms in the area and further south would be 50:50, much higher than the 80:20 ratio in favour of beef farming further north.

Ewan Smith.

Cattle purchased are 90% dairy-bred, typically between 12- and 18-months old, at liveweights of 300-500kg.

All stock are weighed, EID tagged and vaccinated for IBR on arrival. They are vaccinated for fluke and worms six weeks after this.

There are no slats on the farm, meaning all cattle lie on straw beds. They are cleaned every six to eight weeks.

Given the vast areas of tillage in the area, the farm is self-sufficient in straw and grain.

Furthermore, Ewan has access to bi-products of food manufacturing such as pot-ale, draft (wet distiller’s grains), vegetables and even pure potato starch. This significantly reduces feed costs on the farm.

AgriScot beef demonstration

An interactive demonstration was the stand-out beef event at AgriScot agricultural show this year. It demonstrated how a butcher selects prime cuts and how finishers can meet the butcher’s requirements. The audience could interact with questions using electronic handsets.

The markings on this animal show the variance in meat cuts on different regions of the carcase and the corresponding difference in values of each cut.

The butcher informed the audience that section A contains the most expensive meat cuts like the sirloin, fillet and rib cuts.

Next, was section C which contains the rump and round roasts.

After this is section D which contains the chuck, brisket and shank; while section B contains the least-valuable cuts with the flank and manufacturing beef originating here.

The markings on this animal show the differences in the loin and the rump of the carcase. The traditional Sunday roast comes from part D of the rump. Part A contains the sirloin and fillet, part B is the rump and part C is the top-side.

To learn more about the beef demonstration and Ewan Smith’s finishing operation, see this week’s Irish Farmers Journal in print and online and watch the video above.

Destination Scotland for BETTER Farm beef challenge
Last week, the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER Farm beef challenge participants visited Edinburgh, Scotland. Matthew Halpin reports.

For the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge’s annual study tour, participants of the programme, along with the programme management team travelled to Scotland.

Touching down in Edinburgh airport on Tuesday afternoon last, a farm tour, a visit to AgriScot agricultural show, a breakdown of the Scottish beef sector and fellow Farm Profit programme was squeezed-in before departing for home once again on Thursday afternoon. Here is just some of the highlights from the trip:

Scottish beef

On Thursday morning, Scotland Farmers Journal editor John Sleigh and livestock specialist Declan Marren gave an in-depth presentation on Scottish agriculture as well as the Farm Profit Programme, a beef programme modelled on the highly-renowned BETTER Farm beef programme.

Interestingly, on the opening slide, a map of Scotland embedded over a map of Ireland shows that there is very little difference in the size of both countries. That said, on average, land quality in Scotland would be far inferior with over 85% of land classified as LFA’s (less favoured areas), mainly being rough or very rough hill grazing ground. In terms of suckler numbers, there are approximately 440,000 suckler cows in Scotland, being farmed on around 9,000 beef farms. The average size of a suckler herd in Scotland is 60 cows, much greater than the average suckler herd in Ireland which stands at 17 cows. However, it is all relative given that the average beef farm size in Scotland is over 100ha, compared to 36ha here in Ireland. Looking at the financials, average income on lowland cattle and sheep farms in 2017 was £18,252 (€20,570), while subsidies and payments totalled £34,325 (€38,648) on these farms, on average.

The Farm Profit programme, a joint venture by the Scotland Farmers Journal and ANM Group, was launched in Scotland in spring 2017 and is based on the past successes of the BETTER Farm beef programme, run in Ireland. With the slogan ‘making livestock pay’, the programme includes six monitor farms as well as eight focus groups, comprising of 10 to 15 like-minded farmers, within the trading area of ANM Group which stretches from Caithness to Angus. The main target for the programme is to hit a gross margin of £750/cow (€845/cow) and £80/ewe (€90/ewe). Average gross margins at the programme’s commencement were £340/cow (€383/cow) and £37/ewe (€42/ewe).

Agriscot

An interactive demonstration was the standout beef event at AgriScot agricultural show this year. The event, led by Gavin Hill of SAC Consulting and supported by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) demonstrated how a butcher selects prime cuts and how finishers can meet the butcher’s requirements. The interactive element involved the audience answering questions via electronic handsets.

Question 1:

With a 728kg Simmental steer standing in the centre of the ring, the audience was asked: “What will the carcase weight of this animal be?”

Answer:

The audience were informed that the carcase weight should be in-or-around 410kg resulting in a kill-out percentage of 56%. The audience was told that target kill-out of well finished cattle should be from 54% to 60%. The butcher also explained that this carcase would be a little bit too heavy for his liking: “We are looking for a carcase between 350kg and 400kg. Anything heavier is too hard to handle.” He also explained that the animal had a larger than desired frame: “We don’t want a sirloin that’s big and thin like this steer would give us. We want smaller chunkier steaks.”

Question 2:

The next animal on show had its body marked into four different sections (picture 1), and the audience was asked to vote on which section had the most expensive cuts of meat and which section contained the least expensive cuts.

Answer:

The butcher informed the audience that section A contains the most expensive meat cuts, like the sirloin and fillet. Next was section C, which contains the rump and round roasts. After this is section D, which is mainly used for mince, while section B contains the least expensive cuts with the flank and manufacturing beef originating here. On remembering the value of the carcase he said: “the nearer the hoof and the nearer the horns you go, the tougher the meat is.”

Question 3:

The final question asked audience members to say where the silverside (classic Sunday roast) is located in the rump of the animal (picture 2).

Answer:

The traditional Sunday roast comes from part D of the rump. Part A contains the sirloin and fillet, part B is the rump and part C is the top side. Again, the butcher stressed: “it is not about flashy back-ends on cattle because this is not necessarily the most valuable meat. A longer, thicker animal is far more valuable because there is a higher meat yield in the area of the prime cuts.” Finally, it was also suggested that there will, in time, be moves towards VIA systems to grade carcases which will pay farmers based on the yields of different areas of the carcase and replace the traditional EUROP grading system.

Smith family farm,

East Lothian

Ewan Smith farms 600ac with his family in East Lothian, located 30 minutes east of Edinburgh city. The farm is completely in tillage crops, where wheat and barley are the main crops grown. However, Ewan also has an impressive finishing system running in tandom with the tillage enterprise, with the capacity to hold 340 cattle at any one time. For Ewan, his system is based on buying cheap cattle and using cheap feed sources to get on maximum weight gain.

Cattle purchased are 90% dairy-bred, ideally Montbeliard or Flekveigh but Friesian also contributes largely. All cattle are purchased as steers, normally at the live market and are typically between 12– and 18–months old at liveweights of 300kg to 500kg.All stock are weighed, EID tagged and vaccinated for IBR on arrival. They are vaccinated for fluke and worms at six weeks after this. There are no slats on the farm, meaning all cattle lie on straw beds. They are cleaned every 6–8 weeks.

The system involves finishing the cattle for around 200 days, with an ADG of 1.6kg/day being achieved regularly. Tagret carcase weight for these steers is around 360kg, meaning average kill-out is 50%. Grading ranges between O- and O+. Last week, the base price for steers was £3.74/kg (€4.21/kg) with the same EUROP grading system and age 30– and 36–month age barriers in effect.

However, Ewan’s system is one that would be extremely difficult to implement in Ireland. Given the vast areas of tillage in the area, the farm is self-sufficient in straw and grain. Furthermore, Ewan has access to bi-products of food manufacturing such as pot-ale, draft (wet distiller’s grains), vegetables, and even pure potato starch. While all bi-products of manufacturing, these have extremely high nutritional values for finishing cattle.

Asked about the feed costs and margin per animal per day, Ewan estimated his feed cost to £1.70/head/day (€1.90/head/day) and his margin to be £1.06/head/day (€1.20/head/day).