Calving ease is one of the key reasons why the Greer family from Ballyclare in Antrim chose to keep an Aberdeen Angus suckler herd.
For more than 12 years they have been supplying cattle through the Aberdeen Angus Quality Beef (AAQB) Scheme to the Foyle Food Group. With this in mind a farm walk organised by Darryl Boyd (CAFRE) and Eamon Kelly (AAQB), was recently held at the Greer farm.
Organised by Darryl Boyd, Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, Mallusk the event began with a walk around the various groups of stock, with the farming system outlined by Darryl. The Greers keep 50 Aberdeen Angus X Limousin cows all crossed back to an Aberdeen Angus sire. All male offspring are finished as steers through the AAQB scheme and females are generally sold for breeding. On top of this, around 20 AA steers are bought in annually to be finished over the winter for the scheme.
Ease of calving and management are vital for the Greers, with a strong belief that ease of calving puts less stress on the cow and helps her get back in calf more quickly. For Greers the proof is in the results as they are achieving an excellent calving index of 368 days within a calving spread of 12 weeks.
There is also a strong emphasis on beef from grass. Calves receive a weanling mix 1 month before and two months after weaning to prevent a growth check. Apart from this, no meal is fed until steers reach 15 months when a finishing ration is introduced for two to three months. The farm aims for a grazing period of 240 days in each year. Grades for the most recent batch of steers ranged from O+3- to R=3= with an average carcase gain of 0.5kg/day from birth.
The group of around 30 farmers then made their way back to the yard where Michael Woodside from Clare Vet Group gave a very informative presentation on preparing cattle for housing. Michael outlined how important it was to get on top of parasite issues such as lung and fluke worms and prepare to manage BRD by vaccination in advance of housing.
He also highlighted the importance of correct housing in the prevention of pneumonia. Houses should be stocked according to their design avoiding overstocking at all costs. Air movement should be checked to determine if the inlets and outlets are adequate for purpose. A smoke test can be used to establish this.
The last presentation of the day was by Eamon Kelly of AAQB. Eamon explained how AAQB was formed, as there was and still is a niche market for Aberdeen Angus beef, and gave an interesting history on its growth from 1998 to the well-known producer co-operative it is today. Eamon explained that two schemes are currently available; the AAQB scheme introduced in 1998 and Tesco UK introduced in 2013. He also outlined the various eligibility criteria for the two schemes relating to age, weights, grades, housing and diets.
The day finished with refreshments supplied by the Greer Family and John Moore (CAFRE) concluding with a word of thanks highlighting the importance of co-operatives in achieving top prices for finished cattle.