background image
Forage & Nutrition
Guide 2018
34
Author: Martin Ryan
Technical support manager, Gain Feeds
A
Efficient, sustainable beef
production
Ireland is a major producer and exporter of beef with approximately 900 per
cent self-sufficiency. It is inevitable that a large proportion of all cattle will be
exported either live or as carcase beef
The expansion of dairying will put downward pressure on
suckler cow numbers but total cow numbers may continue
to grow for the next 5-10 years (depending on dairy
returns). There are a number of beef production systems in
place with little focus on unit cost of production. Without
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) supports, the majority of
farmers would have negative returns but, equally, the most
efficient operators are generating positive margins.
FUTURE CHALLENGES
The primary challenges ahead are:
Efficiency (unit cost of production); and
Sustainability (reducing the environmental impact of the
production system).
It is important to appreciate that the Brexit challenge still
exists also but it is looking increasingly more likely that our
trading arrangements with Britain will be equal or similar to
the status quo (tariff free).
EFFICIENCY
There are currently major gaps in the production
efficiency of cattle on different systems and standards of
management. It is not untypical to find winter finishers
with feed costs per kilogram (kg) of live weight gain in the
range of 2-2.40, whereas the best operators have a
comparative cost of 1.40/kg of live weight gain. The main
drivers are:
Forage quality (grass and silage);
Age, weight and quality of cattle;
Poorly balanced diets; and
Poor husbandry and resource management.
Efficiency can only be measured in terms of cost/kg of live
weight gain or carcase gain rather than cost/head/day or cost
per tonne of feed. Cattle will be sold in kg of live weight or of
carcase beef.
SUSTAINABILITY
As pressure mounts on Ireland to reduce our greenhouse
gas (GHG) impact from agriculture, there are a number of
aspects of the beef industry that will need attention. These
include:
Reducing the age at slaughter, currently running at
28-30 months. The average age of dairy cross beef
cattle was 29 months in 2016, which means there is a
substantial proportion over 30 months;
Poor lifetime performance is partly responsible as well
as trying to accumulate low-cost live weight gain from
grass;
Due to the lack of intensity, a very high proportion of
overall intake is utilised for maintenance rather than live
weight gain;
Two rather than three-year-old calving will be essential
in the suckler beef industry; and
A big reduction in the calving interval of the beef herd is
required.
KEY POINTS ON FINISHING
Regardless of the cattle type being finished, meeting
market requirements is critical to obtaining the best price
when slaughtering. Conformation and appropriate fat cover
Breed
Live weight
DLWG (cost/kg)
Feed DMI kg/day
Typicalfinishingperiod
FCE
Carcase kg
Continental female
480-590
1.56 (1.49)
11.47(71days)
7.35
330
HEX & AAX female
480-590
1.25(1.74)
10.43 (88 days)
8.34
300
Continental female
550-700
1.52 (1.61)
12.63 (99 days)
8.31
390
Friesian steer
550-700
1.30 (1.83)
12.11 (115 days)
9.32
330
Friesian bull
500-650
1.46 (1.64)
12.29 (103 days)
8.36
330
Continental bull U
550-700
1.92 (1.29)
12.95(78days)
6.75
400
Somecomparisonsofefficiencywithintensivefinishing.Lowerfeedconversionefficiency(FCE)figureswillalsobereflectedinlowerGHG
emissions.