David Drumm is a suckler, beef and tillage farmer based between Athboy and Delvin on the Meath-Westmeath border.

He is farming approximately 230ac of owned ground and is renting another 200ac.

As well as a suckler enterprise, David buys 200 Friesian bull calves and brings them to beef in an under-24 month system.

However, an outbreak of TB in the area this spring left David’s herd locked up, preventing him from buying any calves this year.

The tillage enterprise grows feed used to finish beef cattle on the farm and the main crops grown are winter wheat, winter barley, fodder beat and maize.

The farmyard is laid out in a format that cattle can be moved around with only one person needed.

Speaking to Agriland, David explained: “I started calf-to-beef in 2013. Before that, I was in the KK club buying in top-end continental weanlings and that job collapsed one spring with a bad beef price. After that, I decided I’d go down the Friesian bull calf route.

“I kill all my cattle out of the shed from February to April and I have hit two dreadful bad years for price in spring 2019 and spring 2020.”

David noted that Friesian bulls were getting a margin until spring 2019.

“My average beef price went from €3.85/kg to €3.10/kg within two years and that was an apocalypse. Paying bills and bank commitments at that price was a struggle,” he said.

However, David noted that 2021 saw beef price bounce back. He said: “This year, my price went to €4.10/kg but the problem was I couldn’t buy in any Friesian bull calves.

“Every load of cattle I killed this year had reactors in it and I’m still waiting to get a clear test so I can buy cattle again.”

David’s calf-to-beef system came to a grinding halt this spring when his herd – along with many other herds in the area – suffered from an outbreak of TB.

He noted: “Calf-to-beef is a very exposed system to TB when you’re selling cattle at the same time of year that you want to start buying calves. If anything shows up with TB, your herd is shut down from buying calves immediately – which is a huge problem.”

David believes that the new road built from Delvin to Mullingar “has interfered with the badgers habitat and that has caused significant TB problems in the area”.

“Every farmer has got a big blast of TB in the past year or so in this area,” he said.

Feedlot status is not an option

While farmers who have feedlot status can still buy cattle despite an outbreak in the herd, this is not an option on David’s farm because he also has a suckler herd.

“I would have considered going down the road of feedlot status but the fact I have a suckler enterprise on the farm eliminates me from the feedlot-status option.”

The suckler enterprise

This year, a total of 65 cows calved down on the farm this spring. A further 30 heifers were bulled this year and taking culls away, David hopes to calve 85 cows next spring.

“I’m going up in suckler numbers because I had no other way of keeping in stock – only to bull my own heifers because this whole area has become a black spot with TB,” he said.

The suckler herd is entirely spring-calving and cows and calves are let out to grass as soon as possible after calving.

“I wouldn’t have a lot of shelter on the farm so I put jackets on the calves before going out. The jackets come off after three weeks but you have to be sure of a good forecast before taking them off,” David added.

“They are a great job. The difference of a calf with a jacket and a calf with no jacket after three weeks is chalk and cheese.”

Finishing beef bulls

Friesian bulls on the farm are finished under-24 months. With the high price of grain this year, David noted he “was tempted to squeeze them and let them to grass next summer”.

All of the 2020-born bulls are now housed for the winter finishing period and were fed on a ration which included zero-grazed grass for as long as was feasible.

David explained: “I’m trying to maximise as much production from grass as possible and with zero-grazing, you have full control of grass and zero waste. It works well but it is labour intensive.”

When Agriland visited the farm in mid October, the bulls were being fed a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) through a diet feeder consisting of grass, straw and rolled barley.

Zero grazing will finish next week and first-cut silage will be introduced.

The maize grown on the farm was due to be cut the following week and will be fed to cattle this winter.

David also treated some of his barley with a urea product this year to produce alka grain. This higher-protein feed will also be fed to finishing cattle on the farm.

He explained it can be “very tricky” getting the fat cover on the Friesian bulls.

“About a third of the dairy bulls grade an R with an average carcass weight of 330kg,” he said.

“With continentals, you need to be aiming to produce a U-grade animal.”

His suckler-bred bulls generally have an average carcass weight of 400kg.


Commenting on his tillage enterprise, David explained: “I try to walk most of my crops off the farm.

He outlined that this year’s harvest has been very successful and said: “To be fair it was probably the best harvest in 30 years. We had good yields, good prices, good moisture and straw was a great trade. Everything knitted together very well.

“The maize this year looks to be the best crop I ever grew.”

David harvested his maize in the third week of October.

He outlined: “I’m very apprehensive starting into the winter of feeding cattle but if I have any addiction, I think it’s winter-finishing cattle.

“Every year, come the end of spring, I say; ‘what did I feed all my crops to them cattle for and just give them away’.”

Concluding, David remarked: “There has been too many bad years for winter-beef finishers but I’m the eternal optimist and always hope next year will be better.”