New entrants to beef farming, Brian and Damien Flynn, have come a long way in a short space of time from their humble beginnings with an 8ac plot of land, stocked with 20 sheep.
Based outside Kinnegad on the Co. Meath/Westmeath border, the brothers formed a partnership and started farming in 2012. Now, 10 years on, the Flynns are farming almost 100ac, most of which is rented ground.
The attention to detail in every aspect of their enterprise is evident from arrival at the farm entrance to the furthest back field, which was recently reseeded with a white clover mix.
For example, the brothers recently built a lambing shed on a block of land with no well or access to electricity.
Despite this, the shed has solar lighting and a battery-operated camera system, as well as a rainwater harvesting system that is plumbed to feed drinkers and a sink in the shed via gravity flow – not to mention the electric generator on-hand to power red lamps during lambing season.
All fields are paddocked using electric fences and drinkers are currently fed using intermediate bulk container (IBC) tanks, although this is only a temporary measure.
The Flynns also have plans to install a solar-powered water pump on a block of land this year; there is simply no end to the duo’s agri-ingenuity.
The beef farm
The pair started out with just sheep but three years ago, began a calf-to-beef operation which buys-in 40 Friesian bull calves every spring and finishes them as steers under 24 months.
As well as this, the duo lambs approximately 260 ewes every spring with all progeny excluding replacement ewes finished.
Both of the brothers are farming part time. Brian works off-farm with Agritech while Damien works off-farm with a wholesale plant nursery.
The calves are bought in around February 10, and are fed milk twice a day (TAD) until around March 12, when they are transitioned to once-a-day (OAD) feeding.
Brian explained the reason for switching calves to OAD feeding: “We like to get our calves early to have them up and running before lambing starts.
“We start lambing around St. Patrick’s Day every year, so the idea is that we have more time in the mornings before work to sort out the lambing shed and we don’t have to spend 40 minutes every morning feeding calves during lambing.
“We spend a week transitioning calves to OAD feeding. We reduce the morning feed gradually and give them the full amount in the evening.”
Generally, the calves are eating 1kg of meal when transitioned to OAD feeding and they are gradually weaned-off milk once they are eating over 1.5kg of meal. This is generally at about nine-weeks old.
When Agriland visited the farm on Wednesday, April 27, calves had been out on grass for 3-4 weeks.
“They were eating a lot of meal at weaning. Probably up near 2.8kg of meal at weaning and this was eased off as they made the transition,” said Brian.
“The way we look at it is milk replacer costs €2/kg and meal is costing us about €0.40/kg, so it makes more sense to get as much meal into them as possible to aid the transition off milk.”
Last year, ration was costing €280/€290/t and this year, it’s up to €380/t, so feed costs have increased by 10c/kg.
“We are thinking of cutting them back below 1kg if the grass is good until August when grass quality starts to reduce. From autumn, they will stay on 1kg until next March, when we pull meal from the diet as they go to grass as yearlings,” Brian added.
At grass, the calves also have access to straw, which Brian believes helps keep the calves’ stomachs right. He noted that, despite the caves being on good grass, the straw feeder is refilled every 3-4 days.
“The shed we rear calves in, we have had a few issues with Coccidiosis, so we vaccinate in March for that and it seems to solve it,” he said.
“We dung sample before dosing and we won’t dose unless we have to.
“This is the third year rearing calves on the farm. We have learned a lot and had ups and downs but this year has probably been the best year so far.
“We started rearing calves because there was only so many ewes we could lamb and we took on extra ground and felt the cattle would help graze it out.
“The cattle running with the sheep works well, you get nice clean outs with mixed grazing. We rear around 40 calves/year and bring these primarily through to beef.”
This is the Flynns third year of rearing Friesians and both Brian and Damien seem happy with how it has been going to date.
Brian noted: “The purchase price is low and we’re managing to finish them at an average age of 22 months.”
In the finishing stage, the Friesian bullocks get 500kg of beet/head and 1t of meal/head.
On the first bunch of steers finished by the Flynns, the average beef carcass weight was 285kg and the fat scores ranged from a 3- to a 4-.
Brian added that because they start rearing calves before lambing “it’s hard to get good Angus calves that early in the year, and they’re more expensive”.
Yearling steers on the farm:
“I know the grading and bonuses are better with the Angus but the kill out will be much the same. Maybe the bullocks would kill out a bit more,” Brian added.
“It’s only our third year at it so we’re still learning. The big thing we’ve found is it’s better to stay local and buy calves off a farmer who’s doing a good job.
“We have two farmers we buy calves off. Cows are all vaccinated, calves get their colostrum on time and we stick with them and it works well for us.”
The duo are members of ABP’s Advantage Beef Programme. They first read about it online and saw that the criteria for it was “mostly what we were already doing” and so, decided they “might as well apply for it to get financially rewarded for what we are already doing”.
“This is the first year of it so last year’s calves and this year’s calves will be finished through the Advantage Beef Programme,” Brian explained.
“We know what we’re going to be getting for our cattle in the programme and we have a minimum price to work off.”
More than just beef
Spring time is a busy time for the brothers because as well as rearing the calves, the duo lambs approximately 260 ewes.
Lambs are finished off Tyfon. Brian explained: “As part of our reseeding programme, we reseed a field every spring and we undersow with Tyfon.
“We wean the lambs in the first few days of July and finish all lambs off Tyfon. The last few lambs may get meal as the Tyfon deteriorates and the quality goes out of it.
“The cost of the seed is minimal compared to the cost of meal. We will probably sow about 10ac and break that in three paddocks and block graze it.
“We aim to step the sowing and sow two paddocks together and one paddock later, so it’s not all coming together.”
The reseed is block-grazed and lambs above 37kg go to it at a rate of about 20 lambs to the acre.
“We work it in a rotation so as we’re picking lambs off it, we’re bringing the next batch of lambs to it,” said Brian.
“We would have lambs factory fit every fortnight off it. We will probably sow it around May 10-15, and give it seven weeks growing before grazing.
“Last year, we fed ewes on hay for two weeks to dry them off and then they followed around behind the cattle then until breeding.”
Once stock is on Tyfon, they need to stay on it until finished or else go back to ad-lib meal. Generally, a high-clover mix is sown with it so after the Tyfon is grazed, “we have a reseeded field” said Brian.