‘A common factor across the most profitable systems is the use of grazed grass’

Yesterday evening, at day two of [email protected], Dr. Nicky Byrne spoke about different calf-to-beef systems and how to select the most appropriate system for your farm.

Dr. Byrne also made reference to a study being carried out at Teagasc Grange, which focused on the performance of high-EBI Holstein Friesian and Aberdeen Angus calves from birth to slaughter.

What influences a beef farmer’s decision when picking a system?

What should influence a farmers’ decision is what resources are available to them. These include: land resources; labour resources; how good those resources are; the time that they have available; and the type of work that they enjoy. 

Some farmers may have very good calf rearing skills, while other farmers may not have time to rear calves artificially, so they may opt to buy in calves that are weaned. 

Also, as well as the labour, we have to look at the facilities that are available on a farm. For example, is there housing facilities and how much space is there?

If shed space is tight, then a farmer may need to look at going down the route of an early-maturing system, where you can avoid having to house cattle for a second winter and fully utilise the shed space that is available on that particular farm. 

What is the most profitable system? 

The common factor we see across the most profitable systems is the use of grazed grass.

We know that the systems that utilise large quantities of grazed grass – in excess of 80% of the animal’s total lifetime feed requirements – and those that can achieve an early age at slaughter are the most profitable type of systems. 

Over the years, we have seen heifer systems, where farmers are killing their stock at 19-20 months-of-age, being able to avoid housing those cattle for a second winter, which, in turn, has meant they have been able to carry more cattle per hectare; these systems have performed very favourably. 

These types of systems are able to produce high-carcass output from a predominately grass-based diet.  

What else promotes the implementation of dairy-to-beef systems?

Market and consumer factors also play a role in the implementation of dairy-to-beef systems. We can see that dairy-beef is a really good opportunity to produce a carcass on spec, 280-300kg, which is very much in demand.

A lot of the breeds used heavily on dairy herds are marketed towards high-valued specialised markets. 

So, as well as that, we can also achieve desirable fat levels on carcasses quite easily and we can produce a very suitable animal for a pasture-based beef production system. 

What levels of performance are you achieving with the dairy-bred calves at Grange?

From the dairy-beef study in Grange, we have one complete cycle of cattle killed. Some of those cattle consisted of high EBI-Holstein Friesian animals, as well as two genotyped Aberdeen Angus groups.

It was a very intensive grass-based system. The Holstein Friesians were only fed 740kg of concentrates over their entire lifetime – from birth right through to slaughter – while the early-maturing Angus groups were fed 100kg less. 

We managed to kill the Friesians at 23 months-of-age and the Angus cattle at 22 months-of-age. Those animals achieved high levels of performance in a short period of time.