9 August 2002

Focus firmly fixed on extensification cash

With tight margins on beef, maximising performance and

obtaining subsidy is crucial to Irish producers, but that

could all be about to change, as Jessica Buss finds out

CALVING 60% of suckler cows in autumn will help one Irish producer reduce production costs and meet stocking rate requirements to secure extensification premiums.

Robin Talbots 180 cows at Ballacolla, Co Laois, predominately calve in spring. But he believes calving more cows in autumn will improve grass use, with cows able to go out to frass earlier, and, with fewer cows calving at once, he will also have more time to spend with calving cows.

Having more time to spend with calving cows paid off this spring. He calved 120 cows without losing a single calf, including five sets of twins.

The move will also make it easier to ensure he meets the stocking rate requirements to secure k7000 (£4400) in extensification premium. "Extensification is an important source of income. Three years ago I missed out on it because the dates fell when I had animals in their last week of retention."

To avoid this happening again, he now keeps an even closer check on stocking using a computer program. "It would be impossible to keep track of stock numbers without a computer. I can put in estimated check dates to see how many animals I am over. Then I can sell stock over the limit before the last check date." The computer has quickly paid for itself, adds Mr Talbot.

Finishing rations are also finely tuned. "Margins are so tight it is important to use a professional ration. When margins are down a couple of pence/head/day on a batch of cattle, it soon adds up. Either feeding too much expensive protein or missing out on something that could boost weight gains can be worth a lot of money."

While he keeps investment in machinery to a minimum and uses contractors for most fieldwork, he sees his Keenan mixer wagon as an essential tool. "We have two average sized tractors, but both have done 7000 hours. But we can have 500 cattle inside in winter and using the wagon I know exactly what is fed.

"Before we had a wagon we fed cows in round feeders and added minerals on top. On a windy day we ended up covered in the dust. Now we mix it with forage and can add straw to suckler diets too, depending on silage quality and supply."

He also finds finishing stock are more content on a mixed ration than when fed concentrate twice a day. "Once animals know its a mixed ration and there is enough fed each day, they are happy in their slatted accommodation."

Heifers are finished by 20 months old. The majority to be finished this year were spring born and are spending the summer at grass. Typically all cattle are moved to a new field every week to 10 days depending on grass availability and quality.

Some of the more forward heifers will be housed from September and pushed on. He aims for a growth rate of 1kg a day on a ration including home-grown maize silage, fodder beet and cereals, with purchased soya. Stock are weighed occasionally to check growth.

They will all be sold by Christmas through the Keenan Keepak Club. "This allows us to receive a bonus for a quality product. Prices are guaranteed between two and three months ahead, providing stock meet the required grades which allows us to plan our finishing."

Mr Talbot had planned to sell steers as stores, but the herd was then placed under TB restriction. Now, even when the TB restriction is lifted he plans to keep them, as he is concerned it will be a reference year for future EU subsidy schemes. &#42