Teagasc advice: €1,170/ha suckler margin target

More than 2,000 farmers attended the inaugural open day at the Newford Suckler Demonstration Farm in Athenry, Co Galway, and they learned that cow type drives performance on the farm.

Cow Type

The mainly first-cross Aberdeen Angus cows, bred from the dairy herd, with a small percentage of Hereford cross Friesian cows have strong maternal traits, and are efficient converters of grass to milk, resulting in good daily live weight gains in the calf crop.

The cows must be managed carefully to utilise their potential.

Early turnout to grass after calving is key, otherwise there is a risk of cows losing too much body condition, which could impact on breeding performance.

These cows are lighter, and easier on the ground, facilitating earlier turn out.

The open day showcased the achievements and learnings of the farm’s first full year of operations.

The 56-hectare farm, established in 2015, has ambitious targets to improve profitability of the herd of 100 suckler cow over a five-year plan, including increasing gross margin by more than 130%, from €495/ha in 2015 to €1,170/ha in 2020 (double the average for suckler farms in 2014 eProfit monitor data); reducing variable costs; increasing carcass weights of heifers from 280kg in 2015 to 330 kg in 2020; and from 295kg to 365kg for steers ; and maximising use of grass.

A number of key areas were discussed during the open day at Newford Farm, with important lessons to be learnt for all suckler beef farmers.

Grassland Management

The high stocking rate of 2.7LU/ha means the farm needs to produce over 13t of DM/ha.

Grass growth rates hit over 100kg of DM/ha in mid-May.

Grass is measured and budgeted weekly.

The farm is divided into 72 grazing divisions to achieve high levels of utilisation and to grow more grass.

The target mid season pre-grazing sward height is 10cm-12 cm.

The rotation length is three weeks, with surplus grass taken out of the rotation as baled silage.

Herd Health

The high stocking rate at Newford puts extra pressure on herd health.

Given the high number of visitors to the Newford farm, a biosecurity protocol is critical.

The need for a herd health plan was highlighted, covering areas such as vaccinations, management factors such as ventilation and hygiene around calving, as well as bio-security.

There is a strong focus on using targeted vaccinations to prevent issues occurring.

There is also regular contact with the farm’s vet on all areas of herd health.

Breeding Approach

Breeding performance is the foundation for high herd output, with Newford targeting the herd to produce more than 0.95 calves/cow/year, through careful sire selection.

The seven-week AI cycle kicked off on April 30.

Sires are selected to achieve the right balance between calving ease and good carcass growth.

High reliability terminal sires are used.

Two vasectomised Friesian bulls are used to aid with heat detection. Cows are observed for about 20 minutes at five periods throughout the day.

Stock bulls will be used for four weeks after AI, to clean up any repeat breeders.

In order to reduce labour, AI takes place once a day, by a commercial AI technician, at midday.

The farm’s breeding policy is successfully producing calves which gain weight rapidly and will deliver carcass sizes that meet market requirements.

This year’s crop of 90 calves is on track to reach 50% of their mothers’ weight withinsix months.

Planning and Data Gathering

Gathering and analysing data is a key component of successful implementation of the Newford five-year farm plan, with particular attention paid to the potential to operate the farm as a one-man unit.

There were a lot of valuable lessons on offer at Newford, where farmers were encouraged to focus on the profitability and efficiency of their system.


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