In this week’s Beef Focus, Agriland traveled to Carnaross, Co. Meath to meet Pat Smith, who gave an overview of his beef-finishing system.
Pat is farming approximately 100ac of land, both owned and rented. 50ac of this is on the home farm and 50ac is on an out-farm.
Some of the farm is divided into paddocks while the rest remains in larger fields. These are used for silage and to cut grass that is fed to cattle in the shed during the grazing season using a zero-grazer.
Pat explained that his mission is: “Trying to get as much beef on cattle as cost-effectively as possible.”
To do this, Pat has a few different strategies and technologies he uses – all of which make his farm system unique.
He explained: “I am constantly trying to improve grass-growth and examine the amount of meal I am feeding. I change the type of meal I use depending on the time of year.”
Pat buys mainly forward-store bullocks and brings them all to beef. In the springtime he buys a lighter bunch of cattle which go out to grass for the summer.
Lighter store cattle spend the summer on the farm’s grazing ground, while heavier bullocks are finished in the shed and fed on a diet of zero-grazed grass and concentrates. In the winter, all cattle are housed and fed silage and concentrates.
Pat is a big believer in having his own machinery and also has a machinery sharing arrangement with another farmer in the locality.
He cuts, bales and wraps all his own silage and spreads slurry using his dribble bar and slurry tank.
To improve soil structure, Pat has an aerator which he uses on a fraction of the farm every year, when ground conditions allow.
Zero grazing begins in early March (weather permitting) and first-cut silage is generally cut on the farm in late May.
Commenting on his strategy of feeding all bullocks, Pat explained: “I started out feeding all heifers and cows and when the subsidies came out on bullocks, I switched to feeding them and stayed with it.
“I got used to the weights I can get on to them and I find there’s not the same issues with bullocks getting over-fat as there is with heifers.”
Pat noted that in order to get bullocks performing well, they must be properly dosed and fed correctly.
Commenting on the type of bullock he feeds, Pat explained: “I’d buy any sort of a bullock if it looked to be a bit of value.
“With the system I have, I find if you buy the right animal, get it properly dosed and get the right feed into it, you should get a good daily weight gain on all of them.
“The numbers of cattle finished on the farm varies from year to year but I try to finish 500-600 cattle every year,” he said.
Early beef finish
Continuing, Pat added: “I aim to have the largest bunches of cattle fit for the end of May/mid June when prices are at their highest.”
Pat believes that zero-grazing makes this possible and said: “If I had these finishing cattle outside and the weather was bad, they wouldn’t be as happy or thriving as well.”
Pat noted that it wasn’t all plain sailing trying to make zero grazing work within his farm system, but noted it has greatly helped to increase the amount of grass utilised on the farm while reducing the cost of his finisher diet.
“I was so determined for zero grazing to work, I stuck it out the whole way. It is more work but it’s well worth it. You’re bringing in the cheapest feed available – grass,” he said.
“A good shed is worth 30 or 40ac is the way I would look at it.”
Grass is cut fresh every day and fed to cattle in the shed during the summer.
“It’s important to cut grass when it’s dry as cattle thrive better eating grass that was cut dry,” Pat added.
“Grass is my forte, I love looking at ways to increase grass growth and improve the soil structure.”
Pat believes soil structure and fertility is key to growing more grass.
“There are a lot of new technologies out there for improving soil structure and fertility,” he said.
Commenting on fertiliser usage, Pat noted he plans to cut back on the amount he is buying this year and is trying other products, i.e. slurry additives and soil enhancers.
All slurry is spread using a dribble bar and Pat added that he plans to test the nutrient content of his slurry this year.
Views on the beef trade
Pat is weary of the current trade for store cattle saying “it can’t be sustained”.
“We will be depending on the trade at the back end of this year to hold a lot more than we were last year. I can see a reduction in prices coming later in the year because there’s going to be more cattle around,” he said.
“I’ll be planning to get as many cattle moved on by July and early August as I can just in case.
“Cattle have gotten too dear at marts and there’s farmers out there who would disagree with me for saying that.
“Farmers paying dear for cattle are taking an awful gamble on the trade for the back end of the year.
“Factory agents buying online at the marts are setting the mart price more than anyone else but the prices they’re paying doesn’t stack up when you compare the price of beef to what those forward animals are making. It just doesn’t add up.”
Commenting on plans for the future, Pat intends to extend his slatted shed and open this home farm to zero grazing completely.
“Seven more pens on to that shed would be worth the same as 30ac to me. I can earn as much out of seven bays of cattle as I can on 30ac. I’ll keep the out blocs for cattle grazing and silage only,” he said.