As part of this week’s beef segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Aidan Maguire, the Drystock Grassland Farmer of the Year 2021. He discusses his new venture from sucklers and sheep to rearing 140+ calves, reaping the rewards from grassland management, factory bonuses and reseeding.
Aidan Maguire dispersed his 14-cow suckler herd twenty-three years ago and established a dairy calf-beef enterprise sells up to 300 hens monthly over 160- acres (112-acres owned), including 35 acres of forest.
He utilised savings his nine-year-long job at Navan Post Office to fund calf purchases at marts/farms but, in the beginning, “worked very hard for very little return,” bringing them to stores and selling them through the mart.
The Navan, County Meath, native and Warrenstown Agricultural College graduate grew up on a mixed enterprise and, earlier in life, alongside sucklers, farmed 200 sheep.
“I believe there was not a lot of money in suckler cows. I was breeding Charolais calves off Hereford-cross cows, but I was not at the races in terms of income.” Aidan, the Drystock Grassland Farmer of the Year 2021, told That’s Farming.
Usually, he finishes 40% of cattle off-grass, but this year, due to grass availability/the drought, only 25 came off grass directly to the factory.
The cattle generally come into heifer target weights of being 520-540 kgs liveweight.
Bullock’s target ranges are generally 266-270 kgs deadweight.
Heifers are slaughtered under 22 months, while bullocks are usually between 22-25-months-old, grading O- O= O+ with an R- being a target grade for a heifer and a 3 (+, – =) fat class.
He sends these for slaughter to mainly Foyle Meats Donegal through Emerald Isle Beef Producers group (EIBP), which he has been a member of since 2019.
He secures a 20c quality-assurance bonus and 10c/kg extra for cattle over 300 kgs deadweight.
“I find it suits the Holstein Friesian-style animal as it is not difficult to get them over 300 kgs deadweight, and then you get 10c/kg extra because of that.”
He selects his cattle for slaughter based on data gathered from weighing them fortnightly and whether they are ready to respond to concentrates.
“They are not necessarily selected because they are 600kgs. It is because they are in a position to thrive and are starting to lay down flesh off grass.”
Aidan chooses up to 143 autumn and spring-born calves, aged three weeks-old across three local dairy farms.
However, he said that he prefers autumn-born Belgian Blue animals as “they finish quickly” during the second year off grass.
“Farmers are happy dealing with me, and I am happy with the quality of the cattle I get from them.”
“There is very little Jersey-cross influence. It has only crept in the last year and is only in a small number of calves.”
The quality-assured farm has a selection of bulls and heifers – Angus-cross, Hereford-cross, and Friesian-cross.
“I do not leave any calves after me when my pens are full; I stop buying.”
“For example, I pay a set price for Friesian-cross bulls, Angus-cross bulls and heifers, Hereford-cross heifers, and bulls, which is the same price for both.”
He feeds 5kg of beef nuts for up to eight weeks with an approximate lifetime feeding figure of under 600kg/head from calf-beef.
He handles each animal to ensure they are factory-ready and sends them for slaughter in batches of 10 and 25.
The County Meath farmer has access to five slatted units, one – a five-link shed, built upon entering the new venture through a bank loan –due to slurry storage capacity.
He feeds milk powder once a day (3.0-3.5L) per head/day and 25kg/per head for ten weeks through a milk cart, then 2kg of concentrates, followed by a nut on week 6, alongside executing a herd health plan.
He often thought of twice-a-day feeding when he felt calves did not thrive and instead upped the milk replacer quality.
The Meath farmer added that at weaning, calves are almost as heavy as twice-a-day (TAD)-fed calves but eat a lot more concentrates.
Other feeding includes straw (for bedding and dietary requirements, making 200 bales annually, which he uses for calves, cattle, and hens.
Entering a partnership and managing grassland
Aidan is entering a farm partnership with his son, Luke, a store person at Tirlán Co-operative Society Limited.
However, his son hopes to continue this role until the father-and-son can generate two incomes.
“I am 58 going on 59, so I want to ease my son into farming when I still can help him. I want to give him the confidence to go ahead in the future.”
Aidan, who joined the Grass10 campaign (2019-2021) and is a host farmer, described measuring grass as “having turned the farm around”.
He, therefore, has a high stocking rate – with the home grazing platform at 3.3 LU/HA, at times.
The Meath farmer needed to go into derogation this year because he reached his 170kgs of N limit but is “ticking all the required criteria and the process is straightforward enough”.
“Grass10 has been fantastic, and measuring grass has been the reason for profit from drystock as it takes the big risks and highs and lows out of grass and its yield.”
“A special thanks goes to Grassland specialist advisor John Douglas, Alan Dillon (Dairy Beef 500) and Teagasc advisor, David Argue for their work with our latest venue.”
According to Aidan, since joining Dairy Beef 500 and from grassland management, he has been making a very “decent” return, with 2018 before (BPS) Basic Payment Scheme, €28/ha with today +€800/ha.
“They put me on a path to profitability. We created a plan and followed it through, and within two years, I was making money.”
Aidan said Grass 10 has shown him how to “best” manage his grass, putting pathways through paddocks and making his system “very “simple”.
He added that as an agricultural contractor, it benefits him with grassland management by owning his equipment.
The Meath farmer measures grass twice-a-week, allocating fresh paddocks every two days.
This enables him to know what fields cattle go into next and that they come in with the suitable covers and out with the right grazing residuals.
Up until 2021, Aidan did not reseed in 17 years until reseeding 5-acres of red clover last year and 5-acres (home block) and 7-acres (out-farm) this year.
The agricultural contractor plans to reseed 10-acres of red clover (which will contain 1.5kg of white clover) next spring and may opt for multi-species in the future.
“To be honest, it is not costing me money; the only thing I put out on the red clover is slurry after sowing it.”
Aidan feels the most important thing to do is to spray red clover for weeds six weeks after planting.
He takes three cuts of silage (bales) from the field, and turns calves out to pastures in the spring to lower covers of 500kg/ha to 700kg/ha in late January.
Housing and land management
Then, he houses them around November 13th – depending on weather conditions and grass growth.
Aidan has observed that his stock comes off the pastures “very” contented, eating only half the quantity of feed when in full-time housing.
He usually spreads 23 units/urea after each grazing, with 17 units/urea this year, with on the closing date 20% spread less in 2022 so far than in 2021 at 104kg/ha of chemical fertiliser.
“I spread 2,500-gallons of slurry/acre (through a Low Emission Slurry Spreading dribble bar) after each cut.”
“It grows away almost cheaply that I have to hold onto my slurry just for my red clover paddocks.”
He is using different grass varieties to cut his chemical fertiliser usage financially and because he feels it is the “right” thing to do – citing silage quality is “better”.
The future of drystock farming
Aidan has no plans to increase calf numbers and stated that his herd is doing three times the national herd with an output of 1500kg with a national average of 475kg-500kg.
He said as farmers, we always want more money for beef but I feel it is getting to a stage where there is a tunnel that might have light at the end of it now and again, as you think you are approaching it”.
“The factories pulled prices again last week. It is always going to be supply and demand that determines what price it is.”
“This is regardless of reports saying we are short of beef or cattle numbers are lower this year than last year.”
“In my view, it will always be if factories need it, they will pay for it, and if they do not need it, they will not pay for it. Therefore, I do not feel my opinion matters regarding factory prices or with factories.”
He added that “the power to reinvest in beef farming is so weak that while it is not a hand-mouth job, it is not far away from it”.
“I think we need open, clear contracts that I could do a deal with factories to produce O grade cattle at €5.00/kg under 30 months. It would be up to me to do that as effectively as possible.”
“If factories guarantee they will pay me that price, I will have something to work towards, but, with the current situation, I am working blind,” the drystock farmer concluded.
To share your story like this drystock farmer, email – [email protected]