Macra na Feirme’s idea to promote bull beef production in this country has as much chance of flying with me as would a kite weighed down with concrete blocks.
I thought we had gotten the dalliance of working with beef bulls out of our system years ago.
There follows a very brief summary of my experience working with young bulls within a grass-based system.
First off, they find it hard to get on with each other, particularly if the weather becomes changeable and ground conditions start to deteriorate.
Flies annoy the heck out of them, while heifers and cows in adjacent fields interest them greatly.
Animals in an agitated state in an outdoor setting tend not to put on that much weight.
Then, there are the health and safety implications of working with cattle of this type, once they get beyond 12 months old.
As far as I am concerned, it all adds up to a lot of stress for the farmer involved without that much gain being secured at the end of the day.
Yes, young bulls can grow significantly faster than their steer counterparts. But the only realistic way of securing this potential is to put entire males into a shed directly post weaning and keep meal at their heads until the day they leave for the meat plant.
In my humble opinion, the future for Irish beef production has ‘grass’ written all over it. So, do finishing bulls fit in with this vision of the future? I don’t think so.
Neither does keeping continental-cross sucklers. I have spoken to at least 10 former suckler-beef farmers over the past year, seeking their views on why they left the sector.
Yes, a proportion cited the attraction of dairy.
However, the majority highlighted the problems associated with calving continental cows that had been crossed with another continental breed and the fertility problems that ensued.
A suckler cow, no matter how majestic she looks, is of no value to her owner unless she is able to produce a calf every 365 days.
Calving a continental-cross cow is one challenge; getting her calf to a finishing weight at a realistic cost – and at the right age – is another, equally daunting struggle.
Surely, the end game for suckler farmers seeking to achieve sustainability is to maximise the amount of liveweight produced per acre from cows that require the lowest possible level of inputs.
Finishing their progeny on grass and silage is an equally important criterion.
Enter stage left the Hereford or Angus-cross cow with their native-bred calves at foot.