A leading Teagasc expert has said that finishing Friesian bulls at 19 months is as profitable as finishing steers at 24 months.

However, James Keane said that this is high risk as factories have a limited market for this beef and are currently only marketing 16-month bulls.

He was speaking at a recent Glanbia information evening in Abbeyleix, where he discussed the results of the Teagasc Johnstown Castle Dairy to Beef Programme.

Teagasc’s Cattle Knowledge Transfer Specialist also said that increased numbers of dairy cross calves will come on line as dairy farmers begin to operate in a quota free environment.

He added that the profitability of the 19-month bulls can be severely affected if a discount price of 30c/kg was applied.

The net margin/head of this system drops by 44% when beef price falls by 30c/kg from a €4/kg base price, he said.

The Teagasc specialist also highlighted flaws in the 16-month finishing system as some animals may slip by the age specifications.

“Factories are looking for 16-month bulls so farmers must have assurances that factories will take 19-month bulls if they produce them.

“This system (16-month bull) is also high risk as missing the age limits could result in out of spec animals,” said the Teagasc specialist.

He added that young bull profit is also dependent on concentrate cost with the animals consuming 1.8t of concentrate during the finishing period, at a total cost of €459.

When the two steer production methods are compared it becomes clear that 21-month steers are more profitable than the 24-month animals due to the higher stocking rates, said Keane.

The steer finishing methods tended to be lower risk, added Keane, when compared to the two bull finishing methods.

According to Keane, grass is key to the profitability of all systems, and increasing the period of time animals spent at grass will have a positive impact on farm profitability.

Bull beef

The Johnstown Castle System

All animals underwent the same husbandry processes during their first year on trial.

This involved turnout in late February/early March and housing in November with a targeted weight gain of 0.75-0.80kg/day during this period, which Keane said could only be achieved from the very best of grassland management.

The variable cost included calf price (€75/head) and concentrates (€255/t) with the beef price calculated at a base of €4/kg.

24 month steer production
  • Housed in November and back out to grass in the second season
  • Finished during the second winter with a concentrate input of 550kg (€140)
  • Average deadweight of 602kg producing a 320kg carcass
  • Stocking rate of 2.5LU/ha
  • Weight gain at grass 55% 

21-month steer
  • Housed in November and back out to grass for a second season
  • Finished off grass, a 60-day finishing period receiving 5kg concentrates/day
  • Finishing concentrate usage of 300kg (€77)
  • Average deadweight of 580kg producing a 280kg carcass
  • Stocking rate of 3.0LU/ha
  • 63% of weight gained from grass 

15-month bull
  • Housed in November
  • Ad-lib meals until slaughter in May or early June, slaughtered out of shed
  • The total concentrate usage in this system is 1.8t (€459)
  • Carcass weight of 275kg, with a 520kg deadweight carcass
  • Stocking rate of 4LU/ha
  • 29% of weight gained from grass 

19-month bull
  • Housed in November, 100 days at grass in second season
  • 100 day housed finishing period
  • 1.2t concentrate usage at a cost of €306
  • Deadweight 598kg, carcass weight 320kg
  • Stocking rate of 3.5LU/ha
  • 41% of total weight gained at grass