I live on a farm which consists of approximately of 40 acres of grassland and 3 acres of forestry. Each year at around April time we buy in 24 heifers at a weight of approximately 350kg. This means that they have already had their first winter indoors and first summer outdoors and all that is left for us to do is to finish them and hopefully achieve weights of 550kg-600kg. We do this by feeding grass in the summer and silage and concentrates during the winter.
When these animals reach their slaughter weights we send them to Liffey Meats, Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan. Last year we sent 24 heifers to the factory weighing an average of 580kg. Last year was an exceptional for the beef trade and due to this we received high prices of €4.80/kg, this averaged out at €1400/animal. This was approximately double of what we would receive any other year and this year’s prices won’t be as good.
Liffey Meats Ballyjamesduff
When buying animals at the mart we like to try and get good breeds into our herd such as Belgian blue, Charolais, Limousin and Aberdeen Angus. We look out for these breeds because of their ability to put on live weight and achieve high factory prices. Each of these breeds has their own characteristics which I have outlined below:
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The Belgian Blue originated from Belgium and they can be easily identified because of their blue, black and white coloured coats. The Belgian Blue also has a ‘double muscle’ gene which means they produce high quality lean meat with little or no fat. There is one fault with this breed and that is their calving can be very difficult.
This breed is native of the Aberdeen region of Scotland. The Aberdeen Angus has a dominant polled gene which means they have no horns. They give high quality marbled meat and are adaptable to most conditions. They are very easy calved and are extensively used for cross- breeding.
Charolais are native of the Charolles region in Central France. Charolais are a very large animal with excellent conformation and are very heavily muscled. They have a very fast growth rate which leads high live weight gain which leads to the production of high quality lean meat. Charolais are also used for cross- breeding.
Limousin originates from the Limousine region in Central France. This breed is very popular for its top quality hindquarters and its production of muscle and lean meat. Limousine also gives a very high meat to bone ratio. This breed is also extensively used for cross-breeding and Artificial Insemination (AI).
When our animals are sent to the factory, their carcasses are graded by length of carcass, shape of the hind- quarters, percentage fat and meat content etc.
In the factory this is done electronically and is based on what is known as the EUROP scale.
E: This is the best grade and can really only be achieved by double-muscled animals e.g. Belgian Blue.
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U: This grade can be achieved by the top continental breeds.
R: This is the most common grade achieved by British and continental X cattle breeds.
O: Cross involving Fresian/Holstein X British and continental generally achieve O grade.
P: This is the poorest category, principally Holstein X cattle grade P.
Carcasses are also graded on their percentage fat. This is done on a scale of 1 – 5. 5 being the fattest and 1 being the leanest. Number 4 is sub divided into 4L and 4H (L = Lean, H = Fat).
Ideally farmers want to achieve a score of between 3 and 4L.
Diet of the animals
Overall our animals are fed on 2 main diets, one when they are housed in the winter and a different one when out grazing in the summer.
During the winter the heifers are kept in a 3 bay single sided slatted shed. When in the shed they are fed 70%-80% DMD silage but since this year was a poor year, our silage has a DMD of approximately 60%. Usually along with this silage we feed a 16% bull beef nut but due to the poor quality silage this year we are feeding a beef crunch which is sweeter to the tongue encouraging the animal to eat the silage. The function of this concentrate isn’t only to encourage the animals to eat the silage but it also provides vital nutrients which the animal doesn’t get from the silage such as iron and magnesium.
During the summer our heifers are out grazing on fresh, green, leafy grass. They are usually turned out in April but this all depends on the weather. When we let them out, usually we put them to the silage fields first to let them graze the fields tightly before we apply the manure and close of the field for silage. During the autumn we put out magnesium lick buckets into the fields because at this time of year magnesium is lacking in the grass and therefore has to be supplemented into the diet by the farmer.
On our farm we practice block grazing. This is a field by field grazing system and it is the most common type of grazing system in Ireland. We put the heifers out into the field and they are left to graze for 12 – 15 days and are then moved onto the next field. This allows
grass to rest for 3-4 weeks which means the heifers will have constant access to fresh, leafy grass.
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Good hygiene and management practices are the key element to preventing disease in any herd. Each year after the stock are turned out we power wash and disinfect the slatted shed in order to prevent diseases attacking next year’s herd. As well as this a test for tuberculosis and brucellosis are carried out each year. This test is ordered by the Department of Agriculture which means we cannot stop this test been done. Also we regularly dose our stock for liver fluke we do this because our grazing fields are wet and therefore are the home to the secondary host of the liver fluke which is the mud snail. We also treat our animals with a pour on dose which protects them from any parasites (e.g. Ticks and Lice) that might attack them which leave our stock in a very healthy condition.
Each year we dose against certain diseases such as Bovine Virus Diarrhoea (BVD) but we also have routine tests carried out for disease such as Tuberculosis (TB) and Brucellosis. The tests for these 2 diseases are ordered by the Department of Agriculture.
Disease Cause Symptoms Treatment or Prevention.
Brucellosis Bacteria • Abortion
• Retained afterbirth
• Conception problems • No Cure
• Reactors slaughtered.
TB Bacteria • Lack of thrive
• Dull coat
• Coughing • Good Farm management
• Reactors slaughtered.
BVD Virus • Weight Loss
• Abortion • Vaccine