Growing numbers of Irish beef cattle are originating from dairy calf to beef systems as a result of the expansion of the Irish dairy herd, and the subsequent increase in production of calves bred from the dairy herd.

The profitability of these dairy calf to beef systems came under the spotlight on a recent episode of Teagasc’s ‘The Beef Edge’ podcast when Teagasc DairyBeef 500 programme coordinator, Alan Dillon discussed the figures.

He noted that farms in the programme in 2023 “maintained profitability”, at €540/ha net excluding all payments.

The table below outlines the physical and financial performance of DairyBeef 500 farms in 2023:

Stocking rate (LU/ha)2.37
Gross output (kg/ha)1,332
Gross output (€/ha)3,330
Variable costs (€/ha)1,990
Gross margin (€/ha)1,341
Fixed costs (€/ha)799
Net margin (€/ha)542
Net margin (% change 2023 versus 2022)+3%
Source: Teagasc

He said: “It’s surprising given the year we’ve had. I expected it would be a lot lower given the extra volume of meal that went in and the cost of inputs in the first half of the year, but there was a bit of a beef price rise there.

“We had a strong enough beef price for the first couple of months of the year when some of our farmers were killing cattle.”

He stressed that €500/ha “isn’t a fortune to be making”, and that the profitability is “something we would look to increase in the next year or so.

“What we’re seeing is that stocking rates and output levels are still the key drivers of profitability on these farms.”

Commenting on the key financial targets, Dillon said: “If you can complete a profit monitor, it will tell you a lot about where your farm is standing, and one figure I would always look at, is the amount of live weight output/ha you’re producing.

“The average of our farms is over 1,300kg of live weight, which is quite high given where the national figures sit. We’re at an average stocking rate of 2.3 livestock units/ha. We have some farms in derogation and some farms out of derogation.

“The sales across the farms are coming in at over €3,300/ha, which is probably comparable to where we saw dairy farms a couple of years ago in terms of output, but our variable costs are quite high as well coming in at just under €2,000/ha.

“I could put a share of that down to weather last year, some cattle on some farms went out in April and came in in September last year due to weather and there was a lot off extra meal fed on farms versus last year. We probably hit an average of over €1,000/ha of meal costs on farms.”

He added that the cattle slaughtered before Christmas last year were “back about 20kg” in carcass weight. He attributed this to low dry matter (DM) in grass from July onwards, resulting in poor weight gain and the delayed turnout in spring.

He noted that cattle fattened in a similar similar time frame to other years but at lower live weights.

He said the Friesian steers required an extra month of feeding than beef-cross cattle but had similar carcass weights. The beef-sired cattle also graded better and eat less feed.

“When you take into account the buying price of the Friesians versus the beef-breed ones and what they bring in at the end of the day, the beef-bred ones came into around €1,510 and the Friesians came into around 1,440/head.”

He noted there was €70 extra to be got out of beef breeds versus the Friesians but an extra months feeding required in the Friesians “so probably not a huge amount of difference in the margin of the two categories when you take buying price into account”.

Heifers came into 250kg and bulls 290kg carcass weight at 19 months.