‘The best investment in the farm is in grassland management’

Richard Milligan from Robertstown, Co. Kildare, farms 49ha consisting of 40 spring-calving suckler cows with all progeny brought to beef.

In addition to the suckler-to-beef enterprise, Richard operates a dairy calf-to-beef system finishing between 40 and 50 spring-born Hereford cross dairy, steer and heifer calves each year. Stocking rate on the farm is currently 2LU/ha and the land type is considered to be well-drained (good).

Speaking at this year’s Teagasc National Beef Conference, Richard noted that his best investment on the farm so far has been in grassland management and grass measuring. He also stressed the importance of soil fertility, infrastructure and reseeding.

James Flaherty, farmer from Castleisland, Kerry; Shane Gleeson, farmer from Cappamore, Limerick; Alan Dillon, Teagasc; and Richard Milligan, farmer from Robertstown, Kildare

Grass measuring

The investment in grassland management proved to be of significant benefit as, despite the extreme weather conditions of 2018, Richard’s farm grew 8t of DM/ha.

This is slightly lower than the 10t of DM/ha achieved for the same period of last year, but it’s above the national average for grass production on Irish beef farms.

Compared to the cold and wet spring, the summer drought had the biggest impact on the farm, he said. Grass growth was reduced resulting in limited supplies for grazing cattle and a decreased area and yield of first-cut silage.

During mid-summer the decision was made to start supplementing all cattle on the farm. He explained that the suckler cows were offered hay, while all the young cattle were offered supplementary concentrates.

Concentrate supplementation

The decision to offer supplementary concentrates had multiple effects. Although average daily gain (ADG) of the cattle was lower compared to last year, concentrate supplementation maintained a reasonable level of animal performance.

It also reduced the demand for grass and stretched any remaining supplies. Supplementing also allowed for grass covers to build and silage to be harvested when growth improved.

Richard noted that he had planned to feed concentrates until growth improved but, due to the continued scarcity of grass, he made the decision to increase the rate of concentrates fed.

The supplementary concentrates offered to the calves increased from 1.5kg/day to 2.5kg/day, and for older finishing cattle from 3kg/day to 5kg/day for steers – and from 3kg/day to 4kg/day for heifers.

As a result, cattle would be ready for slaughter sooner and before housing, which would further reduce winter-feed requirements. Heifers have now been slaughtered, albeit at lower carcass weights compared to 2017.

Steers are almost fit for slaughter, but will exhibit lighter carcass weights than last year.

Dairy calf-to-beef

Speaking about his dairy calf-to-beef system, which he has been operating for a number of years, Richard said that the attraction of such a system for him was the increased output potential and that Hereford cross calves, as a breed, are suitable for his low-cost grass-based system.

He indicated that the breed can be easily finished off grass at the end of their second grazing season.

Currently, the farm has 100% of its winter fodder requirements in place, but Richard plans to create a fodder surplus.

He explained: “Keep the grassland management going and take every opportunity to build fodder stocks, even when you have 100% of your winter fodder requirements.”

He also said that almost 3.5ha of fodder rape has been established on his farm for feeding this winter.

Finances

Excluding subsidies, in 2017 the farm recorded a gross margin of €685/ha; a gross margin of €1,150/ha was targeted in the farm plan.

Richard’s cost of production for 2017 was €3.40/kg of carcass. He expects this to increase for 2018 – mainly due to grass supply deficits during the spring and summer and, as a result, the purchasing of extra feed.