Making beef and tillage enterprises work hand-in-hand

Traditionally on farms along the eastern and south-eastern seaboards, both beef and tillage enterprises have worked in harmony with one another.

Although tillage farming is not considered a viable option on a lot of beef farms around other parts of the country – those who are able to establish a tillage enterprise are taking advantage of its benefits.

Peter Byrne is an example of one of these farmers who is able to make both enterprises work hand-in-hand. Being a participant in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme, he farms from his home base in Castledermot, Co. Kildare.

Peter operates a calf-to-beef system where both spring and autumn-born calves are carried to slaughter, while a 20-cow suckler herd and a tillage enterprise are also in operation.

Utilising homegrown feeds

On most beef farms, a grass and silage-based diet alongside purchased concentrates from a feed mill would be the main source of feed options.

However, on Peter’s farm, thanks to his tillage enterprise, he is able to incorporate homegrown cereals and fodder/forage crops (beet and maize) into the diets of his finishing animals annually.

Ensuring that the books balance and having neither enterprise made to look more or less profitable is an important factor to consider.

To prevent this from happening, the feeds produced from the tillage enterprise are ‘purchased’ at market value by the beef enterprise.

This ensures a fair portrayal of profitability for both systems when profit monitors are being completed.

Finishing diets

From the crops available to Peter, he is able to formulate a winter-finishing diet consisting of high-quality grass silage; homegrown cereals; forage maize; and beet.

Second-cut grass silage will be offered first in the mixed diets and has been tested at 73 dry matter digestibility (DMD), 15% crude protein and 25% dry matter. Following this later in the winter period will be the farm’s first-cut silage which has tested at 77 DMD along with a crude protein level of 15.5%.

Having this high-quality silage available, it will reduce the levels of purchased concentrates required on Peter’s farm.

This will, in turn, allow him to formulate his diets at a lower cost and aiding potential farm profitability.

As his diets are required to be high-energy based, further purchased supplements are required such as maize meal and straight beet pulp. These are then composed into a total mixed ration (TMR), with the diet composition being outlined in table 1 (below).

*Minerals are supplied on top of TMR mix

The costing involved with this mix is averaging at 17c/kg DM, while providing 0.94 UFV/kg DM at 12% crude protein.

Monitoring animal performance

In order to sustain a profitable beef production, a key measure is to ensure that animals on-farm achieve the desired levels of weight gain at every stage of production.

By participating in the Teagasc Green Acres programme, Peter weighs his animals three times each year, targeting periods such as turnout, mid-season and housing.

Finishing animal performance is carefully monitored on Peter’s farm; this is achieved by weighing cattle throughout the finishing period. From this data, he can calculate his animals’ daily live-weight gains and make informed decisions on when to draft his animals appropriately.

Table 2 (below) illustrates the results of the housing weighing, carried out on October 27, for the different categories of stock present on the farm. The data below highlights the change in weight relative to the same stock group of the previous year.

*15 out of total 34 animals in this category were already slaughtered.
**27 out of total 39 animals in this category were already slaughtered

This information will illustrate to Peter how his animals have performed at grass since the mid-season weighing was completed – while also providing a definite starting point to base his winter finishing targets.

Targets for winter period

In terms of cattle numbers being finished at the end of this year, there are currently 12 autumn 2018-born steers that are targeted to be finished over a 60-day period.

These animals have already achieved an average weight of 600kg on October 27. Through an average daily gain of 1kg/day over the finishing period, they should weigh a minimum of 660kg at slaughter. A targeted carcass weight of 335kg, alongside a 51% kill out percentage, has been assigned to these animals.

Following on from this, there will be 19 heifers remaining on the farm that were born in the spring of 2019. These heifers consist of early maturing breeding, such as Angus and Hereford. Keeping this in mind, these will be allocated an average finishing period of 50 days.

There will inevitably be some heifers from this group that will have to be carried to the 60-day mark.

However, as heifers are drafted frequently for use in Peter’s butchering business, an average finishing period of 50 days is a more representative figure for the group.

Keeping this in mind, a targeted minimum average daily gain of 0.9kg should be achieved. These heifers should then aim for an average live-weight at slaughter of 531kg or a 260kg carcass (49% kill out), as can be viewed in table 3 (below).

Once the heifers have been slaughtered, the remaining animals on the farm for winter finishing consist of spring 2019-born steers, which will be drafted in February / early March.

These steers have been assigned a targeted daily gain of 1kg. As their starting weight at housing is 523kg, an average live-weight of 643kg would be desirable along with a 328kg carcass.