Rising feed costs are putting increasing pressure on the economics of winter finishing systems. This was one of the clear messages translated to over 230 delegates attending the recent Irish Grassland Association Beef Conference and Farm Walk. The event took place at the Horse and Jockey Hotel, followed by a farm walk on the farm of Jim and Audrey Parkinson, New Inn, Tipperary.
A presentation given by Eoghan Finneran, Teagasc highlighted the increasing cost and vulnerability of feeding high concentrate diets to finishing animals. In Eoghan's analysis of a typical steer finishing system with beef ration costing €320/t, soyabean meal at €550/t and rolled barley costing €295/t, he said that the cost of achieving 1kg carcase gain in steers this winter could rise to €5/kg, depending on performance levels achieved. The example was based on a 550kg steer fed for 100 days and an average daily gain of 1.35kg/day.
The analysis carried out showed some merit in finishing animals on the traditional finishing diet of silage and concentrates in near equal proportions. It is unlikely that there is a significant quantity of high digestibility grass silage (72% DMD) harvested in 2012. Therefore, the comparison looked at is a 'poor' digestibility grass silage diet (67% DMD) supplemented with 6.6kg DM of rolled barley and 0.25kg DM soyabean meal. In this scenario, the cost of a kilo of carcase gain could be reduced to €4.21/kg.
However, it was noted that this poor quality silage could, in fact, be very good quality silage for many farmers this year with a high percentage of silage saved falling well below these levels. If this is the case, the merit of a traditional finishing diet is reduced with approximately 1.25kg to 1.5kg concentrates required for every 5% drop in silage DMD.
It should also be considered that while the study undertaken fed alternative diets for 100 days, the relative ad-lib concentrate diet, costing €4.80 to deliver a kilo of carcase gain, has the potential to reduce days to slaughter. This is an important consideration on suckler farms with slurry storage, calving in spring, etc.
Incorporating fodder beet in the diet had the greatest potential to reduce costs with a diet of 5.7kg DM fodder beet, 2.6kg DM rolled barley, 1kg DM soyabean meal and 1.2kgDM straw having the potential to reduce comparable costs to €3.60/kg carcase gain.
Again, Finneran said that the logistics of this system may not suit many farms with handling, storing, washing and possibly chopping fodder beet proving difficult for most farmers. Performance achieved on high fodder beet diets is also variable. All diets were formulated to deliver a daily energy requirement of 11UFV and 13% crude protein (per kg dry matter).
All analysis is carried out using economic figures, i.e. includes feed-out and land charges. These make up about 25% of the above figures.
Finneran also showed in analysis from the Grange Feed Costing Model that a grass-based system incorporating a grazing period pre and post silage harvesting is the most economic system (with the exception of grazed grass) for wintering animals in a suckler calf to weanling herd.
Dairy bred bulls
Longford farmer Kevin Farrell joined the Dairy Calf to Beef Programme established by ABP, Kepak and the Irish Farmers Journal in 2011.
His focus was to increase output on the farm by adding a dairy beef enterprise to an existing 60-cow suckler herd and 230 ewe flock. Although Kevin has only two years experience with the dairy beef enterprise, he has already seen the importance of maximising the role of grazed grass in total lifetime gain of the animal.
Splitting larger fields into paddocks has maintained daily liveweight gains despite poor weather. Farrell stressed the importance of achieving this weight gain at grass. "These bulls need to be 270kg to 300kg at housing as every kilo animals fall below this weight will significantly increase finishing costs."
Another piece of advice he feels strongly about is increasing the level of milk fed to
calves during the rearing stage. "I have seen from other farmers that giving the calves a good start will stand to them right through to slaughter."
The importance of hitting weight targets at housing is emphasised when increased concentrate prices and calf purchase price in 2012 is taken into account. An increase in ration prices of €30 to €40/tonne will drive up finishing costs by about €50 per head for autumn-born bulls and at least €60 per head for spring-born bulls.
Adding increased calf prices of €30 per head will drive production costs to €80 and €100 per head higher. "Assuming a carcase weight of 270kg, we will need a 40c/kg increase in beef price just to offset the rise in feed costs if margins are to be maintained," he said.
Green, clean and
In Paul Crosson's presentation, 'strategies to reduce greenhouse gases', he said that as more and more retailers and manufacturers embrace sustainability there is an opportunity for Ireland to develop a brand of 'green, clean and carbon efficient'.
Crosson said that this could deliver significant benefits with 90% of beef production destined for export markets. From a recent EU commissioned study of carbon production, Ireland was shown to be the fifth lowest producer.
When compared on a like for like basis, Crosson said that Ireland is among the most sustainable beef producers worldwide. However, there are also challenges ahead with Ireland having to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.
As agriculture accounts for approximately one-third of Irish national emissions, it is an issue we need to be aware off. This is in contrast to the targets set out under Food Harvest 2020 to increase agricultural output.
The good news for the industry and farmers is that the level of greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated (eased)by improving production efficiencies.
Management practices such as improved animal productivity, extending the grazing season, improving sward quality, increasing the use of clover and improving manure management will all have a positive influence on reducing the level of greenhouse gas emissions. These are also all practices that have the potential to increase profitability.
Teagasc and Bord Bia have developed a methodology for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to this, Teagasc is also working on software that will allow farmers to identify where greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced. The programme is called Carbon Navigator and will be launched at the National Ploughing Championships.
To do the farm walk justice, it will be covered in detail in the coming weeks with presentation material also revisited in greater detail.