“Breeding the best beef animal possible without impacting the lactation performance of the dairy herd” is one of the Long family’s primary objectives.
Liam Long originally trained as an electrician before returning home in 2013 to join his father, Michael, and brother, Mike, on the family farm.
Together, they operate a herd of 220 spring-calving dairy cows and also farm 100 0-1s and 100 1-2-year-olds on the enterprise in Co Tipperary.
The trio have an 80% 6-week calving rate and produce approximately 460kgs of milk solids per cow per year from a concentrate input of 450kgs.
In the past, they ran teams of stock bulls only, but they switched their focus to all dairy AI for replacements, beef AI and Angus stock bulls towards the end of the 12-week breeding season.
At Teagasc’s recent Dairy Conference – which focused on turning challenges into opportunities – he explained:
“We use Limousin, Hereford, Charolais, and Aubrac beef AI. We found the Charolais and Limousin tend to carry time, so we are considering moving away from them in the future.”
“It is not that there is any difference in calving, but the gestation length is a concern that we have. All calves are fed colostrum and whole milk to weaning.”
“With the type of beef calves we have, even though our brother, Richard, takes 100 of them currently, I know we would have no issue selling them if he decided to cut back, as they are good quality calves.”
“The fact that we can achieve this outcome with no negative impact on the dairy herd makes it an easy decision to breed for better beef during our AI season each year.”
In the last two years, the family has experimented with Fleckvieh genetics and hope to see the fruits of this in the coming years, as “breeding takes years to see the results”.
“We do depend on the expertise of the AI company and all the data that ICBF brings to the table,” he told the conference.
He added that using beef AI gives the herd scope to target bull type to individual cows in terms of gestation length, calving difficulty and beef merit.
“The reliability of proofs from AI bulls for these traits is also a big advantage compared to running beef stock bulls only,” he told the conference.
Animal health and housing
Along with genetics, animal health and housing are cornerstones of this enterprise, as he highlighted at the event.
He revealed plans to construct a new calf house within the next two years and a revised vaccination protocol for rotavirus, coronavirus and E.coli K99 as a precaution to prevent possible issues in spring 2023.
The herd vaccinates cows for Lepto, IBR, and salmonella and vaccinates calves against RSV/P13 pneumonia at present.
He told attendees that 95%+ of calving – both dairy or beef – take place unassisted, with a dead-at-birth figure at an average of 0.6% for the last three seasons.
Long explained: “My brother, Mike, and I put a lot of effort into calving cows. We watch them and assist if required. We try to be there all the time ourselves, so we are not too concerned.”
“One of the hardest calvings was actually a Friesian bull. He was a fair challenge, but everyone here has seen it at some time where you could inseminate two cows the same day with the same bull, and they could calf seven days apart, so that is going to have an impact on the size of the calf.”
“It is not always down to the bull, as the cows can sometimes throw up challenges as well.”
He revealed that putting greater emphasis on the beef traits of AI sires has yielded changes in slaughter performance, with increased carcass weights for both steers and heifers in a shorter time scale.
He outlined that the latter helps reduce beef production’s carbon footprint and emissions from the whole agricultural industry.
Long reported that with better grades, animals attracted higher prices, and he presented sample slaughter performance data as follows:
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