Pics & video: Inside a 500-head beef finishing unit in Cork

As part of this year’s Macra na Feirme Annual Conference, one farm walk was to the Macroom farm of Niall O’Mahony.

O’Mahony runs a variety of enterprises including a 500-strong beef finishing enterprise a 74-cow dairy unit a 75ac tillage enterprise.

The beef unit comprises of a mixture of continental and early maturing breeds mostly focusing on steer and heifer production with target weights of 380kg and 320kg respectively.

The system has a simple aim of weight gain per day, rest and no stress.

Angus calves

Beef Production System

Animals on O’Mahony’s farm go through a finishing period of approximately 70-100 days, depending on each individual animal’s state of finish and physical ability to carry flesh.

The production system of the farm has altered slightly over the last couple of years, said O’Mahony, with a move away from bull production to more of a focus on heifers and steers.

“We used to do an awful lot of bulls, but we have moved to more steer and heifer production. Bulls were financially fine, but there was one or two difficult years.”

The high store price during the summer of 2015 has also impacted on the production system, added O’Mahony, and he limited the number of animals purchased during the year as they were just too expensive.

“If you are going to pay too much for your animal on the first day you are half banjaxed as this is the aspect you have least control over.

“Some of the expensive stores of 2015 are going to die in debt – it isn’t for fun I want to be feeding cattle,” said O’Mahony.

According to O’Mahony, an understanding of the market is critical and every animal in his system is earmarked for a certain job.

The day we buy is the day we sell, every single animal is earmarked for a certain job.

“Everybody knows the type of animals that perform on their farms, make sure you get the cattle you want to be feeding. The well-grown, well-shaped animals will always do the trick.”

Animal Housing and Health

According to O’Mahony, one of the most important factors when it comes to finishing cattle is rest and comfort, which, if managed correctly, will cut out a lot of health problems the animals experience.

The nature of the finishing system means that animals are constantly introduced on-farm, said O’Mahony, with two-to-three lots of animals passing through the finishing unit each winter.

Every animal regardless of source is dosed, vaccinated and clipped within two days after purchase which costs in the region of €5/animal.

At €5/animal may seem like a lot but it is only two or three meal feeds in the animals life.

“Farmers often leave their animals a month before dosing them, but the first month is a complete waste of time unless the animals are dosed.”

The finishing unit on O’Mahony’s farm consists of 10 pens, five have straw lie back while a further five are fitted with rubber mats, animals are never grouped in more than 16 animals per pen.

Hereford Heifers

Beef Animal Nutrition

The purchased animals on farm consume in the region of 600kg of concentrates each with a cost of €108 per animal or €180/t.

All of the animals on the farm, with the exception of the beef calves from the dairy herd are introduced to 2kg of concentrate each day which is gradually built up to a maximum of 8kg/animal/day during the latter stages of finishing.

The cattle on farm consume on average 6kg of concentrate over the total finishing period.

Silage also plays an important role in the finishing diet and it accounts for approximately 50% of the total diet at a cost of €66/animal.

According to O’Mahony, the quality of silage is critical to his finishing system and the farm has consistently produced silage above 70 DMD (dry matter digestibility).

Concentrate Diet Breakdown
  • Barley – 66%
  • Distillers – 22%
  • Soya Hulls – 11%
  • Minerals – 1%

charolais heifer, meal feeding,

Marketing Beef Animals

According to O’Mahony the day you purchase the animals can have a big impact on the profitability of a beef finishing enterprise.

Three-quarters of the investment is the purchase cost of the animal, a 10c/kg saving at purchase is the equivalent of 15c/kg at slaughter.

The Cork-based farmer added that he monitors the markets and follows trends to understand the production costs and what animals the market are looking for.

“Some of the expensive stores of 2015 are going to die in debt, it isn’t for fun I want to be feeding cattle for the factory to make a profit,” he said.

Economics of the steer finishing system on Niall O'Mahony's farm
Economics of the steer finishing system on Niall O’Mahony’s farm