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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Teagasc predicts more suckler farmers will switch to finishing dairy calves

Teagasc has released its 2027 sectoral road map for beef, an estimated projection of the sector’s future.

The state agency is predicting that the number of suckler-beef cows is “likely” to decline between now and 2027.

“There is likely to also be a small reduction in the number of farms with beef cattle. The strength of the wider economy will be important in determining the vulnerability of farm households with beef enterprises.”

“There will likely be an increase in the number of farms rearing and finishing calves from the dairy herd, with some farms switching from suckling to these systems.”

“The negative impact of the expected contraction in the suckler herd on finished cattle supply will be offset by the increased supply of calves from the dairy cow herd that is expected to materialise, as ongoing growth in dairy cow inventories continues.”

Further successful development of dairy calf-to-beef enterprises will be contingent on better integration of dairy farm and beef farm decision making with regard to genomic selection for beef traits, the road map added.

The continuation of live calf exports to continental European markets will be “important”, it outlined, in managing the supply of calves on the Irish market.

Environmental considerations in roadmap:

Reducing net greenhouse gas emissions on Irish beef farms will be one of the key priorities over the coming years.

This will be achieved through a number of actions:

  • Improving the breeding efficiency of the national suckler herd;
  • Reducing the average age at slaughter of steers and heifers;
  • Increasing the use of protected urea instead of CAN-based fertilisers;
  • A higher percentage of slurry targeted to be spread in the spring, while also using low-emission slurry spreading (LESS) methods, so as to improve nutrient efficiency and reduce environmental losses;
  • Reduce nutrient losses to water through improved nutrient management and improved management of land and farmyards;
  • Increasing focus on hedgerow maintenance; n increasing the clover content in swards; and,
  • Exploring the potential role of forestry on more marginal land on beef farms.
Research and advisory actions
  • The beef research programme will develop and evaluate innovations in grazing management and grass-based feeding systems, including indoor feeding strategies, with the objective of optimising animal performance and the efficiency of feed provision;
  • Herd health protocols will be developed to reduce the use of antimicrobials and anthelmintics on beef farms; best practices on beef farms will be promoted;
  • The role of new genomic technologies to reduce bovine respiratory diseases will be evaluated; improved diagnostics and more targeted interventions will be developed;
  • Factors underpinning animal fertility will be investigated with the objective of optimising whole herd reproductive performance; protocols for increasing the use of artificial insemination (AI) will be developed;
  • Research will seek to improve the broader environmental sustainability of beef systems, including greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions, water quality, biodiversity and nutrient use efficiency;
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from beef cattle production will be a key goal. In particular, the impact of complex interactions between animal genetics, feeding systems and the rumen microbiome on enteric methane emissions will be evaluated;
  • The effect of management, feeding systems and genetics on meat quality characteristics, including human nutritional attributes, will be evaluated;
  • The productivity factors (intermediate inputs, capital and labour) that influence the performance of beef farms on varying land types will be examined from the perspective of full- and part-time farming systems, with a focus on novel digital, mechanical and farm systems technologies;
  • Develop a targeted dairy calf-to-beef support programme, disseminating the key messages from the Teagasc Green Acres programme and Teagasc research on dairy calf-to-beef systems through the wider beef knowledge transfer (KT) programme;
  • Establish a dairy calf-to-beef demonstration farm using optimum beef genetics and grazing management;
  • Evaluate different ‘beef contract rearing’ protocols to develop stronger collaboration between dairy and beef farmers;
  • Support and grow the beef discussion group network to enlarge the uptake of sustainable profitable technologies;
  • Continue to focus on grazing management to increase utilisation, improve nitrogen (N) use efficiency, and increase uptake of grass/white clover pastures using PastureBase Ireland;
  • Implement appropriately designed ecological measures to increase biodiversity;
  • Have a pasture-based organic beef farm within a KT demonstration farm programme;
  • Continue to collaborate with key industry stakeholders, e.g., meat processors, the ICBF, Animal Health Ireland (AHI), and Bord Bia to promote best practices and support innovation in the Irish beef industry;
  • Provide more timely and targeted advice to all beef farmers through increased use of digital media;
  • Provide continuous professional development courses on a range of relevant topics to beef farmers and other personnel working in the beef industry.
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