IRELAND - Finishing male cattle as nineteen month old bulls is the most profitable beef system in Ireland right now, says a study of grass-based suckling systems.
Furthermore, it is the most environmentally friendly in terms of green-house gas emissions.
This was the message of Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc) at the recent British Society of Animal Science conference in Chester, where researchers questioned the route ahead for Irish beef.
Maximising productivity from grass diets was key for the Irish industry going forward, delegates heard.
“Do we finish earlier with more focus on concentrates or do we have more extensive systems," Dr Paul Crosson, a beef systems modeller with Teagasc, asked the conference.
He outlined Irish beef as being at a crossroads, with the role of dairy-bred beef hovering as a question mark over the industry’s future with this spring’s quota abolition.
“The Irish dairy herd is likely to expand post-quota with some estimates suggesting that this could be by as much as 30 per cent," said Dr Crosson.
“As a by-product of the dairy herd, the number of bull calves will also increase as well as heifers surplus to the need to produce replacements for the dairy herd.
“This will provide opportunities to dairy calf-to-beef farmers.”
Work at Teagasc shows bull finishing is practical in terms of production but, in terms of marketing, the picture is less clear.
“There is a more limited market for bull beef,” Dr Crosson told TheCattleSite. “Ninety per cent of Irish beef is exported and this beef is primarily marketed as grass-fed steer or heifer beef.”
Finer Points of the System
- Finish bulls at 19 months of age
- Housed following weaning then stored first winter
- This is prior to a 2nd grazing season of 3-4 months
- Bulls then rehoused on intensive high concentrate finishing diet
- Heifer progeny slaughtered at 20 months
- Heifers housed at 18 months of age in September of 2nd grazing season
- Finished on grass silage and 3 kg concentrates
- ‘Quite high’ stocking rate – 2.7 livestock units/hectare
The concern is that bulls over 16 months of age meet heavy penalties in the UK, which is half the export market.
Meanwhile, the other half goes to continental Europe, which appears to have more flexibility on age, said Dr Crosson.
However, he added that deductions can be imposed on very heavy carcasses - over 400 kilos.
"We, therefore, advise farmers to ensure they have a very good understanding with their meat processor - or ideally a sale contract - prior to deciding on a bull beef production system," said Dr Crosson.
And while the bull finishing system, working at a ‘relatively high’ beef carcass output of around 600 kilos per hectare rates well on ghg emissions, dairy-beef systems enjoy the lowest carbon footprint in general. Dr Crosson explained this finding was consistent with a wealth of published data.
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