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‘Good quality silage is very important to keep costs down’- 168 calf-to-beef farmer

Martin Connolly operates a 21/22-month Friesian bull beef system believing that calf health and vaccinations are key players in making the system more efficient.

The Teagasc Green Acres dairy calf-to-beef participant has 168 calves on the ground.

Friesian bull beef system

“We run a calf-to-beef system, finishing the animals as bulls under 24 months,” he stated during a recent episode of the Teagasc Beef Edge podcast.

Currently, they are trying to adjust the ages to finish them closer to 20 months at roughly the same weight, “that is the target”.

He sources calves locally from up to five dairy farmers, with whom the Roscommon native has developed a “good relationship”.

“I have bought off them for many years now. We would be happy with the way the calves come as far as health is concerned. They would get a good start at life with them, making it easier for me to follow from that.”

Turning out weanlings

In November, they started rearing calves. “About 40 calves went to grass for over six weeks. They got 3 kilos of meal in the shed for at least five weeks before they were left out.”

They continued with meal at the rate of 2 kilos after the calves went out. They also gave them straw as a source of fibre because the weather was poor at the time.

“Now they have all moved on to silage after grass. They are down to a kilo, averaging at 180 kilos to 190 at the moment.”

Progress and grazing system

“Progress is quite good. We weighed some a week ago that were weaned off milk a month, averaging near enough to 0.9 kilos a day.”

“From the day we got them, they would have been doing 0.75 to 8 during the milk feeding term.”

“Once they got up on the meal, they would be eating about 3 kilos of meal at the minute. They are doing over a kilo in the last weigh-in, so I am happy enough with them.”

While the weanlings are still in the shed, they are fed silage.

Martin utilises a paddock system for his outgoing stock, which he started last year as part of the Green Acres programme.

“About every three days, we move the calves on. We found a big plus in that especially for thrive and for managing grass as well.”

Overgrown paddocks are utilised to produce bales. Martin claims that paddock grazing the bull beef system, which is electric fenced, is not a problem.

“I suppose we are at it for a good while, and we have established a system. We are used to what we are doing.”

“We would normally graze them into three different groups on three different plots of land with a group of about 30 to 34 or 35 maximum in each group.”

Grassland management

They are currently taking out paddocks. “We would have taken some the last few weeks some excess grass and paddocks that might have been going too strong if we were a bit tight.”

Martin stated that they sent out one batch of bulls weighing 358 kilograms on March 1st.

“Weather was not good in March and April; we did some damage. We took quite a bit of ground to keep them out. We thought we would have to put them in at one stage, but we managed to keep them out.”

Martin plans to finish this group of bulls inside in the next fortnight.

“They are out 110 /115 days. Normally, we would get about 1.2 kilos over the grazing seasons on the bulls given that they had a tough couple of weeks at the start and some inclement weather.”

“Even at a kilo a day, 470/ 480 kilos, we would expect them to come in the next week or so.”

Finishing bulls

They feed the bulls baled silage, as well as meal through the diet feeder. “Start at 3 or 4 kilos and move it up to 8 kilos. I would expect 9 kilos – depending on the quality of the silage.”

“We would be hoping to start selling out of that at maybe end of September beginning of October. This gives them 100 or 120 days. Hopefully, there will be a good enough finish on them at that stage.”

They weigh the cattle going out in the morning. “We are getting 52%, which is nearly a rule of thumb with them.”

“Say there were 55 bulls killed so far. We probably would have O= 35%, O-would run at 13%, P grade 1%, O plus grade 32%, and R grade is about 7%.”

“That is in the conformation, and as far as the fat grade would be concerned, 2-would be about 2%, which would be small enough on the plainer bulls, that would be like the P grade bulls.”

“The 2= would be running about 23%, and 2+ would be at about 26%. The 3+ grades would be around 49%; we would be quite happy with the fat grade on them.”

Martin believes that having a solid relationship with the processor is crucial before finishing bulls.

“I know there have been difficulties there in the past; I think because we have a tradition of finishing the bulls and selling them through the one processor locally here; they keep taking the cattle off us.”

“So far, we have not had any issues getting the cattle slaughtered, but I believe if you are just starting, you will need to make some arrangements to get them processed.”

Silage quality – 76 DMD – for Friesian bull beef system

Last year, they cut their first crop on May 11th, which had a DMD of 76. They cut their second cut “around June 26th, which had a DMD of 75”.

“That made a big difference to the amount of meal we had to feed to the finishing bulls. I think we averaged at 8 kilos last year for the finishing bulls.”

“It also made a big difference to our weanlings last spring, 45 kilos heavier than the previous year.”

The weanlings benefited as they were all vaccinated.

“We went through a good vaccination program in spring for pneumonia, and that was a success in my eyes for last year.”

“We had no problems with pneumonia which I think contributed to the extra weight gain plus the fact that we worked the paddock system as well because of the Green Acres programme.”

“I think the whole lot contributed to a nice bit an extra weight gain; we saw the value of that now with these cattle going in maybe two months earlier because of their weights.”

Herd health plan

In the forthcoming weeks, they plan to obtain a dung sample to determine what they will dose.

After six weeks in the shed, they give them a fluke dose.

“We had samples taken from calves that went out a couple of weeks ago. There was no concern of roundworms in them even though we would normally dose the calves every month to five weeks with an oral drench there during their first summer.”

As part of the Green Acres programme, they intend to collect additional faeces samples in the coming weeks.

“This is part of the programme to do samples two or three times a year. We will be looking at them again, but I to air on the safe side, I would give a white oral drench to the calves at grass to protect against lungworms mostly.”

Safety and bulls

Martin believes with their age, there is not as much danger associated with them alongside the nature of them being hand-reared, “that leaves them that bit quieter”.

“But you can never be sure as far as a bull is concerned.”

“When the cattle are housed, and on feeding for a couple of months, you would have to be more careful and vigilant with them when you would be doing any moving or changing on them or sorting them for the factory.”

Key to success in a 20/ 21-month finishing system

According to Martin, the key to success is the health of a calf entering the farm and vaccinations.

In Martin’s opinion, “to make it more efficient, you have to do every little thing, and when you do all the little things, you reap the rewards”.

“In the end, there is no point in waiting until the animal is a year old, and then think that you are going to gain a lot of ground. I do not think you will.”

The main focus is on calf care throughout the early stages of raising and the animal’s health, therefore, maintain good grass ahead of them as much as possible.

In Martin’s opinion, in terms of keeping the cost of concentrates down, good quality silage is critical, and in the finishing phase

“There might not be much of a difference in the first year, so we would keep a bit of meal on them simply to keep them going.”

“Definitely for the finishing period, good quality silage in my mind is very important to keep costs down,” Michael concluded.

Friesian bull beef system

You can hear Martin’s full interview, or alternatively, you can read more farming-related content.

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