Farmers attending today’s Beef 2014 event at Grange have been told that they must seek to secure optimal levels of performance from grazed grass.

The latest Teagasc research confirms that on suckler farmers where the calves are sold as weanlings, the target figure in this regard should be 70%. This figure drops to 65% on those farms where calves are brought through to finishing weights.

And this can only be achieved by taking a ground up approach, starting with the issue of soil fertility. Farmers visiting Grange today were informed that a high proportion of Irish soils are too acidic and are lacking in most of the key plant growth drivers, including Phosphate.

Teagasc’s Paul Crosson added that beef producers must seek to improve the genetic base of the stock they are working with. “But all of this will count for nothing if underlying animal health issues such as BVD, IBR and Johne’s Disease are holding animals back, in terms of the performance levels they achieve,” he said.

“There are many factors which will always remain totally within the farmer’s control. But the reality is that grass availability will always remain our greatest asset. And in this context the Teagasc’s Grass Variety Index will help suckler producers to maximise the performance of their stock.”

The Grange-based researcher also pointed out that suckler farmers must make enough silage to get them through an Irish winter and have that little bit of an extra buffer available, in order to allow them meet all eventualities.

“Maximising silage quality is crucially important for those farmers finishing cattle. On farms with suckler cows only during the winter months, seeking to produce rocket fuel forages is not an absolute prerequisite.”

Paul Crosson stressed repeatedly that market returns underpin the financial performance of every beef farm. When it comes to selling finished stock, he suggested the option of farmers seeking to enter into contract supply arrangements with processers.

The latest Teagasc figures confirm that current prices and technologies can deliver the following net returns from suckler beef systems: weanlings – €100 per hectare; steer/heifer beef – €200 per hectare and bull/heifer beef – €300 per hectare. These figures come with the health warning that margins will always be sensitive to changes in the weanling/beef price.