For this week’s Beef Focus, Agriland paid a visit to a calf-to-beef farm in Co. Tipperary.
The Coady family are beef farmers based near Ninemilehouse. Michael works off-farm as a cattle haulier and contractor while his wife Eva and their daughter Aoibhin take charge of the calf-rearing setup on the farm.
The Coady’s farm is involved in ABP Food Group’s Advantage Beef Programme and their ABP farm liaison officer is Amie Coonan.
The video below shows the calf-feeding process on the farm:
The ABP programme offers a 20c/kg sustainability bonus for all eligible cattle as well as assistance on soil, silage and dung sampling and advice on selecting calves with better beef potential.
Speaking to Agriland, Aoibhin explained: “My father Michael sources the calves directly from dairy farmers in the region.
“When buying calves, we look for dairy farms with good cows and full sire information on their beef calves. Buying calves from farms with good calf-rearing protocols is important as well.”
Inside the calf-rearing shed:
She added: “This has been the first year we started checking all the sire details of the calves before we buy them. Most of our calves are bred off sires with carcass values in the Dairy Beef Index (DBI) of between 9kg and 17.6kg.”
The Angus calves purchased on the farm were sired by the following bulls:
Commenting on calf genetics for the Advantage Beef Programme, Amie Coonan said: “Our minimum standard is €35 on the beef sub-index of the DBI for 2023-born calves to receive the bonus.
“Farmers should be looking at purchasing calves from sires with a much higher beef sub-index within the DBI combined with as high of a carcass weight value as possible.
“The average Angus bull has a carcass value in the DBI of 6kg and the average Hereford bull is 4kg.”
Detachable bar on gate to allow for easy milk feeding:
Commenting on the calf selection for the farm, Michael, who buys the calves, said: “There’s such a huge number of calves on the market at this time of the year so beef farmers in the market for calves can choose what they want.”
Michael can see the benefit of ensuring his calf suppliers are producing high-genetic-merit dairy-beef calves:
“We only bought 10 Friesian bull calves this year, and next year the aim is to buy none,” he said.
“The Angus and the Hereford are beating the Friesian on carcass weight and they are grading better.”
“I know you can buy the Friesian at smaller money but the Angus and Hereford cattle are doing better for us,” he added.
“Calves are all fed twice a day here. The morning feed starts at 8:00a.m. and the evening feed begins at 5:00p.m,” Aoibhin explained.
“We’re rearing 85 calves this year and they’re mostly Angus with a few Herefords and a few Friesians also. All our calves are males and are rubber-band castrated before they arrive to our farm.”
Commenting on the composition of the milk replacer, Amie said: “The crude protein levels are good, the crude oil level is good too, anything around the 19-20% for crude oil is ideal.
“Crude fibre is low which is what you want because it means there’s low levels of vegetable protein in it, it’s milk proteins we want in calf milk replacer. The ash levels should be 8% or lower so that’s all good there too.”
Each calf on the farm consumes 1.8-2 bags of milk replacer over the course of their rearing period and all calves are fed probiotics along with their milk feed at a rate of 15g/5L.
“The calves come here at 2-3 weeks of age and are weaned off milk at 12-13 weeks of age generally,” Aoibhin said.
She explained the process of how calves are fed on the farm:
“The water is heated to 40° and loaded into a milk kart with a mixer attached.
“We add the milk powder and the probiotic into the kart and mix it until it’s consistent,” she continued.
It’s then poured into buckets and fed to the groups of calves in teat feeders. If a calf is not drinking, its tag number is recorded and the calf is checked for sickness at the end of feeding.
“We wean the calves off milk once we’re confident they’re eating enough ration. They are weaned in groups of 20 generally,” she said.
“First they go to half feeds of milk for 2-3 days and then the milk is withdrawn from their diet completely. The calves are then trained to an electric fence for a few days and then they go to grass.”
The calf rearing sheds on the farm are not custom-made for rearing calves but have been retro-fitted to leave feeding and herding more straightforward.
The calves are kept in the batches that they arrive in and their pens are designed to allow plenty of fresh air but also have shelter to keep calves free from draughts.
Once on grass, calves graze in two separate groups and are fed concentrates. The older cattle follow after the calves to graze-out the paddocks.
All bullocks on the farm are finished under 26-months of age. Cattle are fed concentrates for 90-100 days prior to slaughter. They are gradually built up to 7kg of concentrates/head/day plus grass silage and straw.
The aim is to produce an average carcass weight of 350kg across the group.
“We aim for a carcass grade of O+ or above but there are always a few that slip into an O= or below. The Friesians tend to grade an O- or a P,” Michael sai.
“The Advantage Beef Programme’s 20c/kg Sustainability Bonus is worth €70/animal to us so on 85 cattle, the bonus is worth €5,950. It’s essential we’re involved in the programme for the sustainability of our beef enterprise,” he said.
Commenting on the Coady’s involvement in the programme, Amie Coonan said: “The Coadys are one of our monitor farms. The farm is a baseline for the advantage programme to see how their cattle are doing and what genetics are working for them.
“The farm has been thinking ahead in that they had been doing most of the programme’s requirements before they joined it.
“The Coadys do a really good job and this is evident in the quality of the beef cattle they produce every year.”