More to consider than calf price in dairy-beef systems
Darren Carty, Livestock Specialist, Irish Farmers’ Journal
A n expansion in the Irish dairy herd as farmers react to the abolition of milk quotas has witnessed a sharp rise in calf births over the last two years. The Department’s AIM statistics report shows the number of births registered to dairy dams increasing by just over 45,000 in 2014 while ICBF analysis shows a further increase in the region of 100,000 dairy births in 2015. Delving deeper into the extra calves born in 2015, about 70,000 of these were sired by Angus and Hereford breeds. It would be natural to expect that such an increase in calf births could instil some downward pressure on the trade. This has not materialised to date however with an increase in the number of farmers operating a dairy-beef system, either exclusively or in tandem with existing farm enterprises, following a steady upward trend. Reports suggest interest levels remain high with a steady outlook forecast for the trade this spring. Reasons often given by farmers progressing down a dairy-beef route include the low entry cost. This is only one aspect and should not be the sole criterion on which decisions are made. Below are a number of factors to take into account if considering or introducing a dairy-beef enterprise to your farm. • Low entry but high capital costs: The capital costs associated with dairy-beef systems are highest for intensive Friesian bull finishing systems followed by Friesian and beef cross steers and typically lowest with early maturing breeds where steers/heifers can be finished off grass before a second winter’s housing period. However, costs alone will not dictate margins with some early maturing systems having lower output potential.
• Realistic budget: A production budget should be prepared using realistic levels of performance and rational costs. If considering purchasing Angus and Hereford calves it is worth assessing the various schemes to get a run-down of what is required to secure bonus payments. • Calf quality is critical: Calf quality can have a huge impact on performance and also the final sale value. The main markets for dairy bred animals prefer animals with a carcase weight of 270kg or higher and grading O= or better. This will also impact on the potential to secure bonus payments (scheme and QPS). Select calves ideally over 50kg liveweight with a good frame, good straight top loin, not excessively narrow at the shoulder or hindquarter and with a good bone structure and no large belly. • Age of calves: Calves born from January to mid- March will achieve higher performance from grazed grass in year one than later-born calves. • Purchase from known sources: Purchasing from a known source has many benefits including getting an indication of background breeding which in turn may give a flavour of potential performance. • Rearing facilities: While the basic principles are similar, managing calves requires good facilities with adequate ventilation, maintained to high standards of hygiene. Close monitoring and attention to detail is essential to disease avoidance.
SPRING EDITION 2016
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