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HomeBeef10 tips for drystock farmers: How to maximise profits
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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10 tips for drystock farmers: How to maximise profits

In this article, That’s Farming, speaks to Aisling Molloy, B & T Drystock Advisor, Teagasc Kanturk, who outlines ten tips drystock farmers can implement on their farm to increase profits/improve management.

  1. Maximise live weight gain from grass
  • Grazed grass is the cheapest feed available to drystock farmers. At 8c/kg dry matter, it is two times cheaper than silage (~16c/kg dry matter) and three times cheaper than meal (~25c/kg dry matter).
  • Grazed grass is a high energy and high protein feed, at 0.92 UFL and 20% crude protein, respectively, although this varies slightly during the growing season.
  • This can be achieved by:
    • Getting stock to grass once conditions allow in spring, particularly prioritising young stock
    • Extending the grazing season as much as possible into the autumn
    • Grazing grass at the right height (7-10 cm or 1200-1400 kg dry matter per hectare)
    • Grazing grass down to the right height (3.5 – 4cm)
  • Average daily gain (ADG) targets for stock are as follows:
    • Dairy beef calves: 1kg ADG
    • Suckler weanlings: 1.2 kg ADG for heifers, 1.3 kg ADG for bullocks, 1.4kg ADG for bulls
    • Yearlings: 0.8 – 1kg ADG
    • Lambs: 230g ADG (1.625 kg/week)
  1. Address any health issues on your farm
  • Health issues such as scour, worms, fluke, pneumonia, lameness etc., will hinder an animal’s performance and will reduce its weight gain response to feed.
  • Use Beef HealthCheck reports from the factory to help identify any fluke or pneumonia issues on the farm. Test scours during an outbreak so that they can be treated accordingly, and discuss with your vet if a vaccine is available to prevent the issue in future.
  • Ensure you are dosing and vaccinating stock at the appropriate time of year to ensure that they are effective and to help prevent antibiotic and anthelmintic resistance on your farm.
  • Have a biosecurity plan in place with your vet to reduce the risk of disease being bought in. Quarantine rams, bulls, or any purchased stock upon arrival to your farm.
  1. Weigh stock
  • If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it. Weighing stock and analysing average daily gain is the best tool that drystock farmers have to monitor their animal performance. You can use it to identify poor performing stock, which can further help to identify and address any health, breeding and/or management issues on the farm.
  1. Test silage and balance with meal over winter
  • A key area for improving profits on drystock farms is winter performance.
  • Aim to make good quality silage by grazing silage fields in spring, cutting in sunny conditions in mid-May, wilting for approximately 24 hours depending on weather conditions and storing it appropriately, where it can be identified from second cuts.
  • In all cases, take silage samples to test quality, and you can balance with sufficient meal to help stock achieve target growth rates over winter.
  • It can also help to reduce calving and lambing difficulties by knowing the quality and restricting intakes if necessary.
  1. Complete e-profit monitor annually and benchmark against other farmers
  • The Teagasc e-profit monitor is a valuable resource for analysing your own annual farm income and costs. It helps to identify areas for improvement, compare against other farmers locally and/or nationally, and monitor progress over time.

drystock farming, beef farmers

  1. Maximise grass grown on-farm and match stocking rate
  • This can be achieved by taking soil samples and subsequently correcting soil pH by spreading lime, and building up soil Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) to a minimum index 3.
  • Implement a fertiliser plan with your agricultural advisor and plan lime, slurry and fertiliser applications to reduce costs and maximise returns. Slurry and fertiliser should be spread in suitable weather conditions to achieve the best growth response and minimise losses.
  • A paddock system should be in place on the farm, where stock spends a maximum of 3 days per paddock, to ensure that grass re-growths are not damaged, and they have sufficient time to recover before the next grazing.
  • Also, you can incorporate clover into the sward, but management is a key factor to success.
  • You should match the farm stocking rate to the amount of grass grown on the farm, provided that other resources such as labour, housing and land type are adequate.
  1. Review breeding targets regularly
  • For suckler herds, use the calving performance report from ICBF Herdplus to ensure that you are meeting breeding targets, such as a calving interval of 365 days, 0.95 calves per cow per year and mortality of less than 5%. Aim to calve all heifers at 22-26 months, which they should be well capable of if they are achieving their weight targets.
  • For breeding ewe flocks, keep records of scan results. Once lambing is complete, calculate the number of lambs reared per ewe (no. of lambs weaned / no. ewes bred). The target is >1.65 lambs reared per ewe.
  • Furthermore, keep best heifers and ewe lambs as replacements. Cull unproductive and infertile cows, bulls, ewes and rams.
  • Lastly, select bulls and rams by using a combination of the Eurostar indexes and their physical appearance.
  1. Join relevant schemes
  • Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine farming schemes are available to all drystock farmers if they meet certain criteria. Most schemes are practical, such as the 2021 suckler BEEP scheme, where you commit to actions that will help improve your herd performance, and you get paid for them, which is a win-win for everyone.
  • The Bord Bia Quality Assurance scheme is free to join. All drystock farmers finishing their own cattle or lambs should be a member to receive a bonus on eligible finishing stock.
  1. Use data to make decisions & have a plan
  • There is lots of data available to drystock farmers, mainly through ICBF, such as suckler cow performance reports, slaughter reports, weight recording reports etc.
  • Slaughter and mart dockets are also helpful sources of information for identifying weight for age, price per kilo and carcass conformation information.
  • At lambing time, you should implement a recording system to record lambing issues, mastitis, potential replacements, prolapses and ewes for culling.
  • You should use this information to make decisions on-farm, such as culling, breeding, purchasing and feeding decisions.
  • My best farming clients make a plan for their farms at the beginning of the year after analysing their e-profit monitor data. While they might alter it slightly, they typically stick to it. A farm without a focus is like a boat without a paddle. It has no sense of direction and floats along without making any progress.
  1. Look after yourself
  • If an animal is not well, it cannot perform to the best of its ability. The same is also true for the farmer. Ensure you get your own annual NCT with your doctor to ensure that you are fit for the year’s work. Regularly review farming practices and have safe animal handling facilities in place to help prevent farm accidents.

For more farming tips and advice, click here.

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