In the fourth section of this calf-to-beef virtual farm walk today (Thursday, May 13) on the farm of Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme participants Austin and Jarlath Ruane, Agriland speaks with Teagasc researcher Nicky Byrne about calf rearing and weight performance targets.

We also speak with Alan Dillion who is the manager of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme, about the production costs and the net margins which can be achieved in calf-to-beef systems.

Calf rearing upon arrival

Nicky Byrne provides a run-through of the calf rearing practices that should be carried out on calf-to-beef farms to ensure that maximum performance of the young calf can be achieved.

Starting with purchasing a healthy calf with high quality genetics, Nicky explains how when a calf arrives onto the farm, they should receive electrolytes along with their first feed.

They should also be given vaccinations against bovine respiratory diseases 24 hours after arrival onto the farm.

The aim is to strike a balance between calf performance and production costs. Over the calf rearing phase, the calves should be gaining 0.7kg/average daily live-weight (ADG).

Calves that are being artificially reared on milk will require concentrates and a high quality roughage source (in many cases this is straw), and fresh water to aid rumen development and assist the transition period to grazing grass.

In an interesting point brought up by Nicky, he explained how the research carried out at Teagasc Grange saw calves being offered lower levels of milk replacer, which consisted of 4L, resulting in the higher consumption of concentrate feed – while also still reaching and ADG of 0.7/kg.

Transition from calf rearing to weaning

A successful transition phase during turnout to grass and weaning will reduce setbacks in the calves’ performance and weight gain.

Nicky explains how calves should be weaned when they meet a range of selection criteria. The first one being that calves should be older than 10 weeks-of-age.

They should be weighing greater than 85-90kg of live weight and they should be consuming in excess of 1kg of concentrates for more than three consecutive days.

Calf purchase price increases in 2021

Moving onto calf purchase price this year, Alan Dillon highlights how calf purchase price has increased on Green Acres farms in 2021.

Last year the Holestein Friesian calf price increased by €11/head as the average price equated to €75/head. Looking at the early maturing calf prices paid this year, these have increased by €50/head in some cases.

Speaking about what farmers need to be looking to buy Alan stated: “There needs to be a balance between calf value and quality.”

Cost of production on calf-to-beef systems

In reviewing the cost of production in a dairy calf-to beef system, Alan points out that this can equate to €1,000/head between fixed and variable costs for a two-year steer production system.

He also explained that beef price this year has averaged out around €3.70/kg for steers between the months of February and March.

Keeping this base price as an example, this would leave a Holstein-Friesian steer in this system killing out at a price of €1,150-1,200/head.

For a Holstein-Friesian steer, taking a calf price of €50/head, for example, and production costs of €1,000 – this will result in a net margin of €100-150/head.

Looking at the early maturing breeds such as Hereford and Angus, they will come into similar carcass weights of 325kg at an O=grade. Keeping breed and quality assurance bonuses in mind – these animals can achieve €1,250/head and potentially higher at slaughter.

Stocking rates

Concluding his points, Alan explained that while high stockig rates of over 2LU/ha alongside efficient management will lead to higher net margin in excess of €400-500/ha on Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme farms, the environmental impact also needs to be considered.

The level of carbon emissions also needs to be monitored while carrying high levels of stocking rates on these farms.