23 October 1998

Good grazing boosts profit

By Simon Wragg

PRIORITISING grazing, low fertiliser use and keeping a tight rein on fixed costs is improving profits from beef on one Irish unit.

Peter Sheridan, who farms 34.5ha (85 acres) at Johnstown, Mullingar, is improving the use of grazed grass to boost income from his 48-cow Hereford x Friesian suckler herd. The grazing period is being extended and prioritising grazing is achieving average daily liveweight gains for heifers and steers of about 1kg/head/day at a cost of 60p/kg.

Cows are turned out in mid-March and youngstock continue grazing through to November. With the decision to sell heifers at 18 months – eliminating the need to house them for a second winter – and tighter calving, Mr Sheridan has reduced silage require-ment to one 8ha (20 acre) cut.

Weaned calves graze silage ground in early spring allowing fresh regrowth to be taken as first cut silage. Calves then have priority ahead of heavier stores and cows with calves at foot to paddocks and silage aftermath. "Calves and stores make more use of fresh regrowth to increase weight while cows can manage on tighter swards," says Mr Sheridan

Calves will graze swards down to 4.5cm (1.8in). Stores and then cows clear pasture down to 1.5cm (0.6in) in a leader/follower system. "Theres no wastage – believe me, we get down to a low sward height," says Mr Sheridan.

Fertiliser use adheres to limits imposed under the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) which Mr Sheridan has joined. The scheme pays £50/acre (£125/ha) on an area up to 40ha (100 acres) and provides £5000 a year guaranteed income in return for a management agreement.

Grazing and silage ground receives 185kg/ha N (148 units/acre) as an early dressing in February. In mid-summer silage aftermath gets an extra 300kg/ha (240 units/ acre) while grazing ground is given 125kg/ha (100 units/acre). Slurry is also applied from mid-February and after silage has been taken.

However, REPS provides a restriction on some proposed improvements to grassland. Mr Sheridan hopes to reseed a field, but producers and consultants attending a recent farm walk agreed limits on nitrogen use restrict potential of a new ley.

"Ive looked at using clover, but on such a small area – and with the cost of clover-safe sprays – its not going to be worthwhile."

Instead Mr Sheridan is now hoping to improve quality of suckler cows, most of which are Hereford x Friesian to boost income. Breeding should improve quality and potential of calves, although liveweight gain and cost of production are already remarkably good, says his Teasgasc consultant John Victory.

Daily liveweight gain to weaning for Mr Sheridans herd is 0.92kg/head/day compared with 1.12kg/day for other Teasgasc monitored herds, however, creep grazing of calves from mid-August boosts liveweight gain to compensate, says Mr Victory.

As well as improving performance from grass, Mr Sheridan is cutting variable and fixed costs/kg liveweight gain. These have been contained to just 45p/kg and 15p/kg respectively (see table). Contractors are used for all land work including fertiliser spreading and silage making. The only machinery on the farm is a 75hp tractor fitted with a loader and a transport box. &#42

Variable and fixed costs

Variable costs (p/kg liveweight)

Silage 17

Grazing 7

Feed 15

Non-feeds 6

Sub-total 45p/kg

Fixed costs (p/kg liveweight)

Casual labour 0.1

Machinery repairs 1.3

Buildings repairs 1.4

Fuel and oil 0.3

Car, light, heat and phone 2.7

Insurance 2.5

Professional fees 1.0

Machinery depreciation 0.2

Farmyard depreciation 3.8

Interest and bank charges 1.7

Sub-total 15p/kg