Band of brothers: Why this beef farmer influenced his dairy siblings on sire selection

Farming in Ballymacarbry, Co. Waterford, Richard Long finishes both early maturing and continental calves originating from the dairy herd and is a participant in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme.

These calves are finished as steers and heifers on 57ha at 20-24 months-of-age. This year, 100 calves were purchased and the breeds consist of Aberdeen Angus, Hereford, Limousin, Belgian Blue and Charolais.

All of the calves purchased on the farm are sourced from his brothers’ dairy farm in Co. Tipperary.

With this arrangement, there’s potential for Richard and his brothers, Michael and Liam, to work together in terms of the beef sires being used.

In addition, Richard can also be confident that the calf has been managed correctly in terms of colostrum, milk replacer, calf creep and water in the early days of life, which allow the animal to reach its weight targets in future months.

In light of this, for the 2019 breeding season, a team of eight beef bulls – of various breeds – have been selected that are positive for carcass weight and conformation, without being excessively hard-calving for the dairy herd.

Before the commencement of breeding, Rose Goulding and Joe Tobin, both of Munster Bovine, Kevin Barron – Mike and Liam’s Teagasc dairy advisor – and Seán Cummins, Richard’s Green Acres Programme advisor, alongside Richard’s local Teagasc advisor, Austin Flavin, sat down with the three brothers to look at the options available.

After examining the cows and having been briefed on the background to the herd – including parity, genetic background and calving pattern – Hereford, Limousin, Belgian Blue, Charolais and Aubrac bulls were selected.

As stock bulls are used exclusively to mate the heifers, any of the beef AI straws would be used in second calvers onwards.

The calving difficulty of the bulls selected range from 3.2% up to 7.8%, with the easier calving bulls targeted at younger and smaller cows, while those of higher calving difficulty will be mated to older cows with a proven track record of easy calving.

An Aubrac test bull – AU4683 – has been included in the bull team and he will be used on a number of cows throughout the herd. With a pedigree associated with easy calving, the Gene Ireland bull’s plus carcass weight and conformation figures warrant his inclusion.

In addition, the longer gestation breeds (Limousin and Charolais) on the list will be targeted at cows mated during the early weeks of the breeding season, while the later mated cows will be AI’ed with bulls of shorter gestation (Hereford, Aubrac and Belgian Blue) to keep the calving pattern compact.

The dairy herd and breeding season

Originally, tillage accounted for a lot of acreage on the Tipperary holding. However, since 2015, a herd of British and Holstein Friesian-cross cows take centre stage on Michael and Liam’s dairy farm.

The herd has increased from 67 cows in 2015 to 220 cows this year; the aim is to milk a total of 240 cows.

To facilitate the herd’s expansion, the tillage fields were converted to grassland and a paddock system was implemented. A road network provides access to these paddocks and a water system was also installed.

In terms of buildings, a 24-unit milking parlour was constructed in 2015. The newest addition is a 240-cubicle slatted house which was finished last year.

The new shed has relieved some of the pressure on housing and calves are kept until they are at least 14-days-old before being moved to Richard’s farm in batches of 10-12.

The breeding season will commence on Wednesday, April 10, and will run for approximately six weeks. Michael and Liam will use MooMonitors for the first time this year to aid with heat detection during the season.

In addition, Fleckvieh genetics will also be trialed this year in an attempt to boost milk production and increase calf value.

The calving season commences on January 10-15, with the majority of the herd calving down between January 25 and February 25.

The Longs’ dairy herd is vaccinated for Lepto, IBR and Samonella. Moreover, all Friesian bulls are kept on the dairy farm and finished at 24 months.