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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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Will beef-bred calves purchased this year leave a margin?

Tips for farmers buying calves 

Alan Dillon, Teagasc beef specialist, is urging calf-buying farmers to consider several factors before investing.

His timely advice comes ahead of the arrival of peak calf numbers available for sale in livestock marts and on-farms nationwide.

He noted that prices for calves typically take a drop around this time of year on the back on increased supply from mid-February on.

Tips for farmers buying calves – consider the following: 
  • Housing;
  • Management practices;
  • Weight targets;
  • System planning;
  • Financial planning.
Housing requirements

Housing requirements for dairy-bred calves need to provide a warm environment of around 15-20 degrees Celsius with good airflow.

Farmers should avoid draughty, damp sheds, and a sloped floor (1:20); allowing water to drain away to a channel is essential to prevent a build-up of ammonia in the straw.

Calf space requirements will increase as they also grow so take this into account when planning for pen sizes. Plan for 1.5 m2 per calf on arrival, increasing to near 3 m2 per calf nearing weaning.

Management practices

Straw bedding must be kept clean and fresh, with a deep bed needed for young calves to nest and keep warm.

“Allow 20kg per calf per week of straw. Peat bedding has been used in the past, but the nature of this material does not allow calves to nest, so it can create a cold environment for calves.”

He recommends vaccinating calves against RSV, and Pi3 viruses after arrival on-farm.

Weight targets

The Teagasc advisor stressed that reaching weight targets is essential for calf-to-beef systems to be profitable.

“Calves should achieve 0.7 kg per day over the first 12 weeks of life until weaning. Introducing meal early and building calves up to eating 1kg per day at weaning will help develop the rumen and allow calves to achieve target weights at grass once weaning is complete.”

System planning

Dillon highlighted that adequate housing must be in place for up to two winters, along with sufficient land and silage stocks to cover up to 24 months.

“Typically, dairy calf-to-beef systems show the greatest level of profitability once the stock are carried through to finish.”

“Entering this system for the first time can put a strain on cash flow as you are waiting two years to get a return on your initial investment. Having a cash flow budget in place and having credit facilities with your bank in place can help alleviate financial pressure on the farm.”

Financial planning

“Calf purchase price can have one of the biggest bearings on whether the system is profitable or not. Calf prices for beef-bred calves this year have increased and leave a question mark over whether a margin will be achieved in 2 years’ time when they are slaughtered.”

According to the Teagasc advisor, analysis from the Teagasc Green Acres Programme has shown how some of the early maturing breeds, in particular, are costing more than what is likely to leave a margin in comparison to Friesian and Holstein calves (20% of final animal value for early maturing vs 11% for Friesian).

Table 1 outlines this below:

Table 1: Green Acres purchase price VS carcass value:

Teagasc, calf prices
Credit: Teagasc

You can read more farming tips.

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