‘There’s profitability from these systems; once you’re not paying too much for calves’

Since the unshackling of milk quotas in 2015, the Irish dairy industry has undergone change. Increases in cow numbers, herd sizes and changes in farm structures are evident across the country. This has led to an increased number of dairy-bred calves coming on stream for beef production.

The second phase of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme – on which AgriLand is the new media partner – will demonstrate profitable dairy calf-to-beef systems – on a whole farm basis – through a network of 12-14 demonstration farms.

Speaking on the latest episode of FarmLand, Teagasc’s Pearse Kelly – head of Drystock Knowledge Transfer – said: “We’re heading for – in the next couple of years – in excess of one million calves coming from the dairy herd and these are going to be heading into beef systems.

Commenting on lessons learned from phase one of the programme, which commenced in March 2015 and ran until 2018, he said:

“What we learned from phase one is that when you work with farmers like this, and when you are working on: improving soil fertility; calf rearing; calf health; overall health; grassland management; and you increase output, there is profitability in these systems – so long as you are not paying too much for calves.

“There is a price that needs to be paid for calves; the calf price has to be reflective of what the ultimate beef price is, so we would have worked with them on that as well. It’s not that you can just pick any price for calves,” he explained.

“We found when you do things right and when things are going well, there is profit to be made on calf-to-beef systems as there is on all beef systems to be fair,” he added.

What will be done differently?

Pearse explained that due to the success of the first phase of the programme – when dedicated programme advisor Gordon Peppard was involved – the programme will now commence for another three years.

“We have six sponsors of the programme and dissemination of information is the big thing – disseminating the information that we are learning from these farms out to a lot more farms; that is our big objective with phase two.

“We’ll hope to achieve increased net margin again, that these farms will be up €400 or €500 net margin / ha – and higher if we can.

“And, we’ll have a lot more information got on these farms, so that we’ll have more information available to the wider farming public – in terms of what is happening on these farms – through AgriLand, farm walks, technical notes, fact sheets and just a lot more on what they need to get right to make them profitable and what are the pitfalls to avoid.

“Calf-to-beef systems – like a lot of beef systems – are down to physical output. The higher the physical output you can have – albeit through grass and silage and keeping costs at a controlled level – that significantly increased profitability across all 10 previous farms,” he said.