In the first article of the ‘Revisited Series’ – where we will look back at the top 10 beef-related feature length articles of 2019 – we wind back the clock to early April.

Farming in Ballymacarbry, Co. Waterford, Richard Long finishes both early maturing and continental calves originating from the dairy herd and is a participant in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme.

These calves are finished as steers and heifers on 57ha at 20-24 months-of-age. This year, 100 calves were purchased and the breeds consisted of Aberdeen Angus, Hereford, Limousin, Belgian Blue and Charolais.

All of the calves purchased on the farm are sourced from his brothers’ dairy farm in Co. Tipperary.

With this arrangement, there’s potential for Richard and his brothers, Michael and Liam, to work together in terms of the beef sires being used.

In addition, Richard can also be confident that the calf has been managed correctly in terms of colostrum, milk replacer, calf creep and water in the early days of life, which allow the animal to reach its weight targets in future months.

In light of this, for the 2019 breeding season, a team of eight beef bulls – of various breeds – were selected that are positive for carcass weight and conformation, without being excessively hard-calving for the dairy herd.

Before the commencement of breeding, Rose Goulding and Joe Tobin, both of Munster Bovine, Kevin Barron – Mike and Liam’s Teagasc dairy advisor – and Seán Cummins, Richard’s Green Acres Programme advisor, alongside Richard’s local Teagasc advisor, Austin Flavin, sat down with the three brothers to look at the options available.

After examining the cows and having been briefed on the background to the herd – including parity, genetic background and calving pattern – Hereford, Limousin, Belgian Blue, Charolais and Aubrac bulls were selected.

As stock bulls are used exclusively to mate the heifers, any of the beef AI straws were used in second calvers onwards.

The calving difficulty of the bulls selected ranged from 3.2% up to 7.8%, with the easier calving bulls targeted at younger and smaller cows, while those of higher calving difficulty were be mated to older cows with a proven track record of easy calving.

An Aubrac test bull – AU4683 – was also included in the bull team and used on a number of cows throughout the herd. With a pedigree associated with easy calving, the Gene Ireland bull’s plus carcass weight and conformation figures warranted his inclusion.

In addition, the longer gestation breeds (Limousin and Charolais) on the list were targeted at cows mated during the early weeks of the breeding season, while the later mated cows were AI’ed with bulls of shorter gestation (Hereford, Aubrac and Belgian Blue) to keep the calving pattern compact.

The dairy herd and breeding season

Originally, tillage accounted for a lot of acreage on the Tipperary holding. However, since 2015, a herd of British and Holstein Friesian-cross cows take centre stage on Michael and Liam’s dairy farm.

The herd has increased from 67 cows in 2015 to 220 cows this year; the aim is to milk a total of 240 cows.

To facilitate the herd’s expansion, the tillage fields were converted to grassland and a paddock system was implemented. A road network provides access to these paddocks and a water system was also installed.

In terms of buildings, a 24-unit milking parlour was constructed in 2015. The newest addition is a 240-cubicle slatted house which was finished last year.

The new shed has relieved some of the pressure on housing and calves are kept until they are at least 14-days-old before being moved to Richard’s farm in batches of 10-12.

Some of the 2018-born calves on Richard’s farm earlier this year

The breeding season commenced mid-April and ran for approximately six weeks. Michael and Liam used MooMonitors for the first time this year to aid with heat detection during the season.

In addition, Fleckvieh genetics were also trialed this year in an attempt to boost milk production and increase calf value.

The calving season commences on January 10-15, with the majority of the herd calving down between January 25 and February 25, 2020.

The Longs’ dairy herd is vaccinated for Lepto, IBR and Salmonella. Moreover, all Friesian bulls are kept on the dairy farm and finished at 24 months.

As Richard is a participant in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme, we will catch up with both Richard and his brothers to see how the calving season goes in the new year.