Attention to detail evident on Tipperary-based calf-to-beef operation

Farming in Lattin, Co. Tipperary, JP Hammersley previously ran a system where British Friesian bull calves were brought to beef as steers at 28-30 months.

Originally, the farm was home to a suckler herd, but this was phased out and a dairy calf-to-beef system took the main stage.

Now a participant in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme, the plan next spring is to buy 80 calves – up from 55-60 this year – and finish 50% of these at 24 months and the remaining 50% at 28 months-of-age.

With full-time work commitments, JP’s aim is to run the farm as efficiently as possible in terms of the labour required for day-to-day operations.

Calves are purchased from one local dairy farmer at four weeks-of-age and arrive in batches of 12. This has worked well for JP over the years, as he knows he’s buying a healthy calf from a known source.

An average carcass weight of 331kg was achieved for the 49 steers slaughtered in 2018.

JP has increased the stocking rate on the farm since 2015 – climbing from 1.4LU/ha to 2.14LU/ha. A paddock system, consisting of 45 paddocks, was installed.

“In 2015, I made steps to model my farm on a grass-based dairy operation; originally the farm only had approximately 20 paddocks, so I looked at dairy farms to see how they were doing it,” JP explained.

“I saw the advantage of temporary wires and fresh grass. The money I saved on meal – by better utilising grass – went into the fencing and water system.”

While great strides were made with the introduction of more paddocks, an intensive reseeding programme is required.

Many of the paddocks contain less palatable and less digestible weed grasses, which are having a negative impact on total grass production, animal performance and silage quality.

However, JP has already started this programme with some acreage reseeded this year. And an additional area will be sprayed off, harvested for bales and then reseeded this back end.

50% of the farm was targeted for reseeding in 2019 (32ac), while the remainder will be reseeded in 2020. The reseeding will be carried out in 10ac blocks at a time to ensure sufficient grass is available during the establishment of the reseed.

Furthermore, an autumn rotation planner is currently being implemented to provide spring grass availability for an earlier turnout weather depending.

2018 performance

The average age of steers slaughtered in 2018 was 29.3 months – suggesting these animals were approximately 77kg behind their desired live weight target at 28 months (19kg of carcass = approximately 38kg of live weight) (30 days later finishing X ~1.3kg ADG).

The average carcass conformation achieved in 2018 was O=3=, stemming from the British Friesian background in their herd of origin.

Going forward, 28-month steers will be slaughtered in June – before grass cattle come on stream and generally when beef prices are in a healthier position; a carcass weight target of 350kg has been set for these animals.

A 315kg carcass is targeted for the 24-month steers.

Preparing for the winter and calf rearing

All silage is cut on the farm in the form of bales and the feeding rate of meal will depend on the quality of the silage – which will be tested in the coming weeks, targeting 75% DMD (dry matter digestibility).

As 50% of the Friesian steers purchased will be finished at 24 months out of the shed, concentrates will have to be purchased. The quantity of meal used will be approximately 440kg/head over a 100-day finishing period.

As mentioned at the beginning, calves arrive on the farm at approximately four weeks-of-age. Given the age of the calves, a slightly higher purchase price was paid in 2019.

“We’ll need the price of calves to come back further next spring based on current beef prices. But, hopefully Brexit and all the other things on the horizon might stabilise a bit by then,” JP added.

Furthermore, the housing facilities on the farm are adequate. The yearling housing is scraped out daily and this adds to the workload during the winter months. A five-bay slatted shed (pictured above) will house the two-year-old cattle in one group.

Mid-seasoning weighing took place at the end of July. At the time, the 2019 spring-born calves weighed 159kg on average, with an average daily gain (ADG) of 0.75kg/day since they were last weighed in mid-April.

The one-to-two year-old steers weighed 438kg on average, gaining 1.18kg/day since mid-April, while the two-year-old plus steers weighed an average of 636kg, gaining 1.32kg/day since the previous weighing.

Concluding, JP said: “I joined the Green Acres programme through my local Teagasc advisor Joe Hand. I thought the programme would challenge me to do things better; I’m always trying to improve.

“It’s great to see the right way of doing things. It’s great the way you can benchmark yourself off other farmers and, indeed, the other demonstration farms.”