Organic Cattle: Beef Enteprise
“In 2014, I felt I had to start looking at other options for the farm. Every time I went into the field, I was spending money on fertiliser and sprays.”
That is how Fergal Byrne began his opening address at a Teagasc organic farm walk on his diverse enterprise in recent weeks.
Attendees heard how the Calverstown Little, Dunlavin, Co Kildare farmer opted to convert to organics in recent years.
Initially, he was renting a lot of land on conacre and growing cereals. He desired to generate a full-time income from the farm and said he realised that he would have to increase in scale under conventional systems to enable this to happen.
In late 2014, he undertook a 25-hour course on organic farming principles and decided that farming organically could offer him “the opportunity to earn a full-time living from the farm without having to increase in scale”.
Later that year, he completed his conversion plan and commenced his organic conversion in early 2015.
He now farms a mixed enterprise with suckler cows, ewes, wool, and turkey all sold off-farm organically.
He says the variety of enterprises protects him somewhat from price fluctuations as he is “not too dependent on any one income source”.
The utilisable area on this farm is 58.76ha, of which 35.49ha is owned, and the remaining 23.27ha is rented on a conacre basis. There is also a further 5.6Ha of commercial forestry, bringing the total area farmed to 64.36Ha.
He primarily keeps sucklers and sheep on the home farm and uses the outside blocks for hay and silage.
The suckler herd has remained “relatively static” in numbers over the past decade; however, before converting to organics, he used to sell all calves at weanling stage.
Over three years, after converting, he increased the stock until he was selling all cattle as finished animals.
Slaughtering suckler-bred organic progeny
He keeps in the region of 15 suckler cows and rears all the progeny through to fattening at 22 – 27 months.
The cows are predominantly Charolais-types, which he breeds to a Charolais stock bull, and calves in March and April.
Cattle receive 3-4kgs of ration for the last three weeks before slaughter, and “that is the only ration they receive in their lifetime”, he told attendees.
Furthermore, he utilises red clover silage to finish cattle over the second winter. He slaughtered all cattle in 2022 at Slaney meats and sold the majority for a flat price of €5.60/kg.
Kill-out results he provided to attendees showed an average slaughter age of 25 – 26 months and an average carcass weight of 286kgs.
Slaughter data for organic cattle from January-May 2022:
|Number of animals||11|
|Days on farm||747|
|Average age at slaughter (months)||25|
|Carcass weight (kgs)||286|
|Number of animals||3|
|Days on farm||774|
|Average age at slaughter (months)||26|
|Carcass weight (kgs)||286|
From the table below, Teagasc assumes that Fergal purchases his own weanlings at 300kgs for €900 and finishes them at 26 months.
As Fergal does much of his own machinery work and grows his own straw, the silage costs and straw costs are “over-estimated” to reflect the situation of a grass-only farmer who hires a contractor to complete all silage work.
From Teagasc’s figures, the farm pockets a net profit of €82/animal, before an OFS payment of €131 is added, which sums to a total profit of €213/head.
In the next part of this article, we will provide an insight into Byrne’s sheep enterprise.
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