Low prices made it another difficult year for beef farmers

It has again been an extremely difficult year for Irish beef producers.

For the best part of the year, finished cattle prices have been very poor, which has hugely eroded farm incomes.

Obviously, the price is out of the farmer’s hands, but there is plenty that can be done around the yard to help control costs and improve productivity.

The same questions regarding your business need to be asked each year.

Use your records for future planning.

It is important that you look back at performance records from previous years, in order to improve planning for the next year.

List your production results for the year, relative to the targets you may have set out at the beginning of the year.

Suckler herd performance

Check calves born, mortality rates, disease incidence, vet calls for sick animals, empty cows.

BDGP participants: are you on target with four or five star females? Is the scheme delivering results for you?

Beef performance

What is your live weight gain per day for weanlings, stores, and finishers?

What is your cattle kill out performance (grades, fat covers, and prices achieved)?

What is your cost per kg of live weight gain?

General farm performance

What is your silage yield and feed quality, meal purchases, fertiliser usage?

How much grass is grown per hectare, etc?

Also include in a list any other things you feel are important to your business.

Successes and failures

Learn from the year’s positives and negatives!

In suckler herds, did the calving season go to plan? What was calf survival like? If you lost calves, at what stage did they occur? Did cows clean easily after calving (feeding management, environment and mineral status influence this).

Were suckler calves of the desired quality? Did your bull(s) produce consistent quality calves? Did you use AI? Was heat detection successful when using AI?

How well did first calving heifers perform? Did they go back in calf? Had they grown sufficiently before calving? Did they have enough milk? Will they develop into the kind of cow you want in your herd?

What input did you change that did or did not work?

Did you buy on price and compromise on quality?

Did finishing animals grade as they should have? Is the finishing system the correct one for you and your farm (compare bulls versus bullocks versus heifers).

Was the home-grown forage quality good enough to finish your stock? Was the meal quality good enough? Are you buying based on protein content rather than energy? Was sufficient meal fed to achieve performance targets?

Was grass quality as it should be? Do you need help with grassland management?

Were weanlings at the desired weight for sale?

Did cows produce sufficient milk?

How well did bought in stock perform on the farm? Were there any losses? If yes, what were the losses caused by (stress, disease?).

What is your protocol for introducing purchased stock to the farm? Do you use a transition diet to settle cattle into the farm? Are you vaccinating purchased stock at entry to the farm?

Was your parasite control strategy effective in 2016? It was not a particularly wet year, but the parasite burden was higher than normal!

Were there any new disease outbreaks? What should you be vaccinating for if anything? Have you discussed getting your vet involved to formulate a vaccination programme?

Were you happy with silage this year?

More planning needs to be put in place for grass silage around the country; the quality produced this year is very variable.

Did some fields grow less grass than others? Do they need reseeding?

What is the lime, P and K status of fields? Do they need trace elements? Is compaction an issue?

How did your crops yield this year? Assess soil nutrition before planting in 2017. What is the soil condition like? Are fields suitable for the crops grown? Are you growing the right crops for your beef production system?

There are many questions here for you to consider, regarding your production system. Addressing these questions and many more will help you to make much more informed decisions for the future.

Each year brings new challenges; what works in one year may not work in subsequent years.

Seasons greetings

As this is my last article of 2016, I would like to wish all readers a very happy Christmas and a prosperous 2017.

As always, in beef farming, once one year ends, the cycle begins again. What lessons have we learned from 2016, and what are we going to change to improve our farming practices in 2017?

Independent dairy and beef nutrition consultant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nutrition, can be contacted at brian@pfn.ie


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