Facilities, labour, land, a work-life balance and income required are key factors when selecting the most suitable beef farming system.
That is one of the key messages Paul Crosson, enterprise leader at Teagasc Grange, conveyed at the state agency’s Beef 2022 event.
He told attendees that you should construct a “clear” three-to-five year plan to improve beef farm’s economic and environmental sustainability.
He added that selecting the most suitable beef system for your farm, including the most appropriate stocking rate, is “the foundation” on which you should build this farm plan.
Once you have made this decision, the remaining steps of the plan, such as grassland management, animal breeding and animal health, are next.
He stressed that every farm would be characterised differently when it comes to each of the factors highlighted above, and this will determine the choice of system and target stocking rate.
Beef farming systems
Elaborating on each point, he told crowds that “labour is the most constraining factor on beef farms”.
“Beef farmers tend to be labour poor in the sense that most are part-time, and indeed, demographics lend itself to less labour being available on beef farms.”
“Secondly, in terms of a beef farm, there may be preferences in terms of the type of labour you like to carry out. Some are interested are breeding and calving cows, while others are more interested in rearing and finishing cattle.”
“That will influence the type of farm and beef system you want to operate,” he added.
Crossan then went on to discuss facilities and their influence on the type of system that you can operate.
You should review housing accommodation, having sufficient slurry/ farm yard manure storage and adequate animal handling facilities.
He said that having these in place allows farmers to increase their stocking rates without the need for investing further money in the farm.
He highlighted that some systems – such as summer grazing, finishing heifers and steers off grass before the second winter and finishing autumn-born calves at 24-months – require less housing than others.
Crossan then pointed to land, which “ultimately becoming a constraining factor on any farm at a certain level of stocking rate”.
The amount and quality of land will include turn-out days, stocking densities and grazing period durations.
“On beef farms, you tend to have a lot of fragmentation, and that will influence the type of system that the farm can carry and its stocking rate,” he explained.
“Soil type, soil fertility, drainage capacity, sward type and level of farm fragmentation are all factors that will influence a farm’s choice of beef system along with the number of stock it can carry per hectare.”
“Some of these can be improved where there is a willingness to do so, but for some of them, they are unlikely to change on many farms without a significant investment in time and money. Therefore, most farms have to work with what they have,” he added.
He said that a work-life balance is becoming “increasingly” important in modern-day society. That is, as he defined, how much time and effort you are allocating to ‘work’ activities (beef farming) compared to family and leisure time.
“Beef farming and farms, in general, are a little bit different than other sectors in that farms tend to be family operations.”
“Therefore, there is a crossover between your work and your life, so getting that work-life balance can be that little bit more difficult.”
“But, it is important to find time for leisure, holidays and your family,” he told crowds at the stand at Grange.
Lastly, he discussed income requirements as part to conclude his presentation and noted that it would dictate the intensity at which you operate (stocking rating) and system type.
He listed beef systems, including suckling, calves and stores and stressed that it is important to:
- Know your important KPIs;
- Identify your weaknesses;
- Measure regularly;
- Review and revise.
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