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How suckler farmers can increase profits in 2022

Eddie Webb, B&T soil & environment adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare, outlines how suckler farmers can increase profits in 2022.

Farmers will need to be vigilant as regards cost control this year as variable costs will increase with a focus needed on the 3 Fs:

  • Fertiliser;
  • Feed;
  • Fuel.

As we start a new year, it is appropriate to reflect on farm performance and identify areas where you could achieve farm improvement in 2022.

Such key areas include:

  1. Tighten calving pattern to one 12-week period;
  2. Also, tighten an average calving interval of 365 days;
  3. Increase calves produced per cow per year;
  4. Calve cows earlier to increase weanling sales weight;
  5. Cull poor performing cows and replace with heifers;
  6. Purchase a 5-star stock bull;
  7. Soil test portion of farm and lime accordingly;
  8. Turn stock out earlier to grass in spring;
  9. Cut silage earlier to improve its quality for growing cattle;
  10. Reseed poor-performing pastures.

Prioritising the top 3 areas will provide a focus to farmers’ intentions in 2022 that should result in increasing the beef output on the farm.

A consultation with your farm advisor will determine the current performance in these areas and the best management practice that can be adopted at the farm level to improve the same.

Increase profits 

The 3 biggest factors that drive the beef liveweight per hectare are:

  • Production per suckler cow;
  • Performance per herd;
  • Stocking rate per hectare.
1. Production per suckler cow

Farmer’s main aim is to increase the live weanlings produced every 365 days per 100 cows put to the bull.

The following factors drive this:

  • Cow fertility;
  • Calving pattern;
  • Mortality.
Cow fertility

The sooner a cow is back in calf and produces her next calf, the more productive she is.

A long calving interval, together with a high empty rate, are indicative of poor breeding performance.

Farmers registered for ICBF Herdplus have access to detailed information on calving intervals per year.

You can use this to identify if trends are improving on-farm; compare with the national average, and identify poor performing cows that you should cull.

Calving pattern 

Having a defined compact calving period and setting clear objectives for targeting a 365-day calving interval, a 12-week calving spread is required on the farm.

The bull should not be allowed to run with the cows all-year-round, and confine the breeding period to less than 70days.

A calf born in mid-Feb would achieve a heavier weaning weight of 90kg compared to a calf born in early May, with the financial gain being seen in the mart ring at the time of sale.

Mortality

Deaths of calves at calving or shortly afterwards can be high on farms.

Selection of easy calving bulls to minimise calving difficulty, together with monitoring cow condition and nutrition from drying off, should put the cow on a good footing at the time of calving.

This should ensure the cow produces colostrum so that the calf will have an immunity to any disease challenge.

2. Performance per herd

The higher the liveweight gained by each growing animal, the higher the overall beef output per hectare.

Grassland management will determine the output on farms where the target is to graze high-quality leafy grass.

A long grazing season is essential to maximize performance at grass, and early turnout in spring will be reflective of the closing/resting of fields from the previous year.

Performance tends to dip in the second half of the grazing season from July as grass quality and weight gains decline due to poor grazing management in the early part of the year.

Silage quality will determine the liveweight gain over the winter period with low dry matter digestibility (DMD) achieving little or no live weight gains.

Poor quality silage will have to be compensated by higher levels of concentrate supplementation that will have a subsequent detrimental impact on the farm’s financial performance.

Animals, that are healthy and are free of parasites, respiratory diseases, will achieve a superior beef liveweight gain per day.

Timely use of doses at recommended rates should be followed.  Furthermore, draw up a herd health plan specific to each farm with your vet.

Particularly where an outbreak on a farm has occurred recently, an important step is to sit down with your local vet and discuss prevention strategies.

3. Stocking rate

Farmers that achieve success at production per suckler cow and performance per herd should aim to increase the stocking rate on the farm.

The stocking rate will be largely reflective of the following:

  • Land type;
  • Grazing management systems;
  • Cattle housing;
  • Labour availability.

Increases in stocking rate must be supported by higher levels of grass grown on the farm.

Grass measuring and budgeting tools such as Pasturebase help farmers to make more informed of the grass status on the farm and make decisions to achieve better farm performance.

Read our Suckler Focus series.

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