20 September 1996

Better use of grass may help weather BSE storm

Cutting costs by better grass management was the theme of last weeks Irish Grassland Association beef meeting held in County Laois, Eire. Emma Penny reports

EXTENDED grazing and better use of grass during the main growing season looks set to help two Irish beef producers weather the BSE crisis.

Brothers Richard and Gerard Booth farm 121ha (300 acres) at the Heath, near Portlaoise and currently finish their heifers at 300kg deadweight off grass with supplementary concentrate after Sept 1. Steers are housed mid-October and finished in March and April, averaging 385kg deadweight last year.

The 69 Friesian cross Limousin and Angus cows currently calve from January to April, with weaning in October and housing in December. But the brothers aim to bring average calving date forward to Feb 1, finishing steers on Dec 1, while they are also examining the feasibility of finishing heifers at 12-14 months.

Better use of grass is central to this plan, said Richard Booth. Progress so far has focused on developing rotational paddock grazing. But this is likely to change, for the farm has 45ha (110 acres) devoted to cereal and beet crops, and rotating crops round the farm makes a paddock system tricky – fences have to be removed each time a field is ploughed up.

"We are going to revert to larger fields again, and strip grazing with back fencing, moving the fences every two days. That means I will be able to see grass supply three to four weeks in front of the cattle, and plan accordingly." The change in calving date and increased reliance on grass should cut cost/kg weight gain from £1.27/ kg for heifers and £1.38/kg for bullocks finished inside, which includes the cost of the cow, but not suckler cow premium, to about 80p/kg, which is about 60p/kg without the cost of the cow included.

"We should get a better weight gain and be able to finish cattle more quickly. Extending the period they are at grass will also reduce costs significantly."

Over 220 farmers and advisers attended this years IGA beef meeting. Most could nearly double production from grass, said Granges Eddie ORiordan.