There is no doubt that beef farming faces many challenges in 2020, but in the meantime, farmers can make a number of improvements inside their own farm gate that will make the farm more sustainable, writes Gabriel Trayers, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit.
Complete a Farm Profit Monitor
In January, the farm finances are a good place to start to give a true reflection of the farming operation.
A Profit Monitor outlines the output of the farm and what you spent on variable costs such as meal, fertiliser, contractor etc and then allows you identify potential areas for improvement eg reducing meal cost.
Every type of business evaluates its performance annually and farming should be no different.
Now is the ideal time to take soil samples to establish the soil fertility of your farm. It will identify the levels P and K and also the amount of lime that your farm might need.
Both P and K are essential for the uptake and utilisation of Nitrogen by grass plants. Lime is the cement in the mix of NPK that makes them available to promote grass growth.
Taking soil samples allows you to complete a full fertiliser plan – no more guessing of the amounts or type of fertiliser to purchase in spring.
Take one soil sample (€25) for every 5ha before application of slurry. It will also help ensure that you will be Nitrates compliant. Contact your local Teagasc office.
Housed beef cattle and suckler cows
There’s no point feeding parasites. Now is a good time to treat all housed cattle against all stages of liver fluke.
Check to see if lice are a problem again. Consult your vet on the most effective product to use on your herd.
Spring-calving suckler cows need to be at Body Condition scored (BCS) 2.5 at calving.
Suckler cows should be divided and fed, according to their BCS status. Restrict feed to fat cows, while thin cows may need concentrates in order to meet their BCS at calving.
Silage is generally well-balanced in major minerals but is deficient in trace elements such as Copper, Selenium and Iodine.
However, offer dry cow mineral licks (in buckets) or a mix containing Phosphorous, Magnesium and Sodium and minerals should be fed at a rate of 100g/hd/day for 4 to 6 weeks before calving.
Vaccinate pregnant cows against Rotavirus and Coronavirus, which are the most common organisms associated with calf scour.
Ensure cows are vaccinated between 3- and 12-weeks pre-calving.
Calving – “Fail to Prepare & Prepare to fail” is a quote often used – Now is the time to wash and disinfect calving boxes. Acquire an adequate supply of straw and have clean, calving equipment available.
Slurry is a valuable source of organic matter N, P and K when applied in the right conditions. Grass growth can be boosted by the application of slurry to bare fields from January 16th, if weather and ground conditions are suitable.
If you have heavy grass covers on other fields, graze them first and apply slurry later on.
If you have soil samples taken, apply slurry to areas with low levels of P and K.
Farmers should be applying more slurry in spring when grass needs it most.
Aim to have at least 75% of your slurry applied at this time and consider spreading slurry using low emissions tankers; this way of spreading reduces ammonia loss which has a positive environmental impact while increasing the value of slurry.