19 January 2001

Mediterranean markets want top-notch finishing

Finishing 500 cattle/year is

a huge operation compared

with most Irish farms.

Emma Penny asked one Co

Cork producer how he

manages that on a 69ha

(170 acre) farm

GUARANTEED prices for finished cattle have helped one Irish farming couple expand their award-winning beef enterprise.

Expansion means that John and Kate Tait, who farm 69ha (170 acres) at Westwood Farm, near Cork, now finish about 500 cattle/year. Finished cattle are progeny from their 80-cow suckler herd and bought-in stores which finish over summer on a feedlot system developed by Mr Tait.

Cattle finished at Westwood Farm are sold to Kepak as part of the KK Club, an alliance between the beef processor, feeder wagon manufacturer Keenan and about 150 Irish producers (Livestock, Jan 5).

The scheme aims to ensure a steady supply of high quality beef for Mediterranean export markets from respected beef finishers, with Keenan supplying the nutrition advice, and Kepak providing forward prices for its suppliers.

Producing quality beef to tight specs means good management is essential, and Mr Taits skills have recently been recognised when he won Irelands EURoSuckler competition, designed to find the countrys top beef producer. His system has an emphasis on quality, and he also believes that he is now starting to be paid for producing quality beef.

That emphasis means that all aspects of production are carefully assessed; in the suckler herd, which has 30 spring calvers and 50 summer calvers, cow type is paramount, he says.

"I dont believe theres any perfect breed, but theres a perfect cow within breeds. I look for cows with good shape which will produce good progeny. Breed is almost irrelevant. If you took the skin off the cows they would all look the same. Theyre very uniform."

Commercial cows in the herd are Limousin, Charolais and Simmental half-breds, with some half-bred Belgian Blues and Herefords. About 20 pure-bred Charolais and Aberdeen Angus cows are kept for breeding pedigree bulls for sale to local suckler and dairy herds.

Charolais bulls are used on all commercial cows, and a Limousin on heifers. "We get on well with the Charolais which breeds true to form, and we get a more uniform crop of calves than their breeding would suggest. They all look the same on the processing line."

Spring-born calves are weaned in October and transferred to the finishing unit in November before being sold in May and June. Progeny from summer calvers are weaned in June and moved to the finishing unit in autumn, with bulls sold in December and January and heifers in October (see panel).

While the split calving helps spread supply throughout the year, Kepak was keen to take cattle throughout the summer months – a period when there is traditionally little throughput. This need, and a guaranteed forward price which helped persuade his bank manager that expansion was a good idea, persuaded Mr Tait to try an outdoor summer feedlot system which he had seen in operation in Australia.

The feedlot has been running at Westwood for some years now, with 170 bulls finished on the system last year. Stocked at a rate of about 74 bulls/ha (30/acre), the bulls are fed in a feeder on a hardcore base, with access to a small wood-chip bedded lying area during wet weather. Bulls are bought-in at an average liveweight of 440kg, and finished at up to 680kg liveweight in 150 days – a liveweight gain of 1.6kg/head/day.

Heifers are also kept on an intensive finishing system throughout summer with access to a paddock, but are fed indoors, which helped save hardcore costs. They are bought-in at about 370kg and fed for 120 days to reach 520kg, achieving a liveweight gain of about 1.3kg/head/day and an average carcass weight of 290kg.

"We will carry on with the feedlot system because it means we have almost unlimited capacity, and our buyers like it. The guaranteed price also makes it possible and worthwhile.

"The only fault with the system is that we need to buy cattle which fall within a more specific weight band because we need cattle to be off the farm by late August so we can drill grass to reduce run-off, which might be a problem.

"Last year, we bought cattle at 350-550kg, and those which were bought at 350kg had to be taken inside to finish. Next year, we will narrow the weight band, and buy only heavier cattle."

Cattle for feedlot finishing are sourced through a dealer who buys for the live export market, says Mr Tait. "Hes got good access to stock and I have no time to spend in marts. I work on achieving a clear profit of IR£50-60/head on stock, and calculate what we can afford to pay on the basis of that."

John Tait aims to supply demanding markets, so finishing is carefully managed.

TAITTIPS

&#8226 High growth potential stock.

&#8226 Very high liveweight gains.

&#8226 Value for money feeds.

&#8226 High forward sale price.

&#8226 Sell to a contracted outlet.

Finishing cattle


Bulls

Spring born Housed Nov 360kg Sold May/June 680kg

Autumn born Housed Sept 450kg Sold Dec/Jan 650kg

Autumn purchase Housed Nov 350kg(spring born) Sold May/June 680kg

Spring purchase* Bought Apr/May 440kg Sold Sept 622kg

Heifers

Spring born Beet tops Oct 320kg Housed Feb 430kg Sold May 520kg**

Autumn born Weaned June (grass) 330kg Housed Aug 390kg Sold Oct 520kg

Spring purchase* Bought Apr/May 370kg Sold Sept 520kg

* Outdoor ** Lightest to grass