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2011 Beef Conference and Farm Walk

Event Details

  • Date: 19 Jul 2011
  • Venue: La Mon House Hotel near Ballygowan

The Ulster Grassland Society (UGS) and Irish Grassland Association (IGA) organised a successful mini conference and farm walk in Co Down on 19 July 2011. The event attracted a turnout of 300 plus visitors from all over Ireland.

The morning’s conference session, held in the La Mon House Hotel near Ballygowan, was followed by an afternoon visit to the suckler beef unit of Paul Turley, who farms on the outskirts of Downpatrick.

A fully qualified vet, Paul embarked 4 years ago on the development of a suckler calf to beef system which encompasses the attributes of securing maximum performance from grass and forage while, at the same time, optimising the returns available from thre marketplace for his finished stock.

Prior to establishing the spring calving suckler herd, Paul had been traditionally finishing beef stores. But when the figures were added up, the venture was not making money. So he then set out on a review process, which led to the development of a uniquely successful suckler breeding and finishing enterprise four years ago.

His new herd was developed from a selected number of British Friesian cross Angus heifers, which had been sourced specifically from a local farmer.

“I wanted cows that were not overly big but which would have plenty of milk and would produce a calf every year,” Paul told this week’s visiting group.

“During the initial planning stages we looked at what would be the best sire type to use on the cows and the answer clearly coming back was Aberdeen Angus.

“We are currently producing three quarter bred Angus finished cattle and are able to get our bulls away for slaughter at 17 to 18 months of age.”

The other key drivers for the business were the absolute commitment to keep the cows out the year round, to calve the cows down in a nine week period, starting in late January, and to follow this up with a breeding season of similar length. Both criteria would be implemented in ways that would ensure the optimum breeding performance of the cows and the attainment of top notch calf growth rates

Paul is currently farming 180 acres in one block, only 25 of which are owned. The breeding herd currently comprises 91 cows and calves. However, the intention is to build numbers up to 140 cows.

“Another requirement was to ensure that the fixed overheads of the business were kept to an absolute minimum,” Paul further explained.

“All of the cattle will be kept outdoors the year round from now on. All the yearlings were kept in during thre very cold spell of last December. However, that really didn’t work for a number of reasons. All the cattle will be maintained outside on an ongoing basis.”

He continued:

“A contractor is used, whenever possible, to carry out all silage harvesting and grassland management operations. I have access to a yard and good handling facilities, which allow me to carry out all relevant stock management related jobs in comfort without the need to bring in additional help.”

During the winter months the cows strip graze an area of kale, which is supplemented by silage and a grazing area, which is specifically managed to provide fresh grass at that time of the year.

Paul has no issue with cows losing up to 50 kilos of bodyweight in the run up to calving. The objective is to carry the cows as cheaply as possible over the winter.

But it is the success in achieving exemplary levels of breeding performance that makes Paul Turley’s herd such an interesting focus of attention.

At the present time he is achieving a figure of 91.5% animals sold per cow or heifer put to the bull. This is helping him to achieve a net margin per hectare of between £320 and £350. “So how does he do it? Here are his top ten tips:

  • Allow vasectomised bulls to run with cows immediately after calving in order to bring on cyclic activity quickly
  • Bull power is critical to achieving high levels of fertility and a tight calving spread
  • Cows with a range of calving dates are grouped together so as to spread the workload o the bull
  • Tight calving is essential to grassland management and reducing labour
  • Scanning is an essential management tool in planning the calving season
  • Farmers must look ahead to reduce any bottlenecks in labour demand
  • A proactive approach to herd health is crucially important
  • A cow must be able to look after herself when fodder supplies are limited
  • Breeding programmes must be kept simple
  • Farmers must accurately measure the physical and financial performance of their herds

UGS President Norbury Royle confirmed the tremendous wealth of valuable information and new thinking which the conference and farm visit had succeeded in communicating to the many farmers in attendance.

“The successes achieved by Paul Turley have highlighted the absolute necessity of maximising cow fertility and ensuring that replacement heifers are brought into the breeding herd as close to twenty four months of age as possible,” he commented.

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