How 3,500-head beef unit averages 1.5kg gain a day

Kepak Farm, located in Dunboyne, finishes 3,500 cattle a year, with cattle supplied direct to the nearby Kepak factory in Clonee.

Owned by the Kepak Group, it claims to be one of Ireland’s most efficient finishing units, with average daily liveweight gains hitting 1.5kg a head a day.

We visited the unit as part of an Alltech press tour to find out how robust animal health and sourcing protocols alongside good nutrition and data recording is helping them to realise exceptional performance.  

Farm facts

  • 320ha in total
  • 50ha of grass
  • Home-grown barley, maize-silage, wheat and wholecrop
  • Cattle graze during spring/summer months
  • Three full-time staff and one part-time office-based worker
  • TB testing once a year. Although all animals go direct to slaughter
  • Finishing continental breeds, mainly Limousin and Charolais

Robust health and good nutrition are the linchpins to good performance at Kepak Farm, where daily liveweight gains are averaging 1.5kg a head a day and mortality is running at less than 1%.

The store-to-finishing enterprise, based in Dunboyne, County Meath, currently sources 60-70% of cattle direct from farm at about 10-24 months old. The remaining 30% are bought at market, although this is now mainly heifers.

The switch to buying more bulls direct was made after a disease outbreak.

See also: How a beef farmer used EBVs to increase profit a cow by £360

“Our aim is to keep them out of that market environment, where the animal is heavily stressed,” explains farm manager Sam Myles.

Strict health protocols have been key to getting mortality to a low of 0.4% too.

But forging stronger relationships with suppliers also plays a big role and the farm hosts regular visits with its farmer supply base on herd health and sourcing policies to help improve the quality of store cattle coming on to the unit.

“It gives them a better understanding of what we require,” explains Mr Myles.

On arrival, incoming cattle are vaccinated and housed for 24-48 hours inside a straw-bedded isolation unit (see “Incoming cattle protocols”) before being moved to finishing sheds.

They are also fitted with management ear tags. The four different colours – green, red, orange and blue – correlate to the four different Kepak fieldsmen.

Animal performance figures – such as health, daily liveweight weight gain, grades and killing-out percentage – are recorded and the tags then allow each animal to be traced back to its buyer.

Incoming cattle protocols

  • Vaccinated against pnemonia and clostridial diseases
  • Dosed for fluke and worms
  • Weight recorded
  • Tails and backs clipped
  • Management tagged

Buyer performance is then recorded and benchmarked to ensure they are sourcing the best animals for the system, says Mr Myles.

Following the quarantine period, animals are then moved into finishing sheds, mostly consisting of slats.

Bulls will be kept in pens of eight to nine with the same social group they arrived in to prevent fighting, while heifers will be mixed in pens of up to 25.


Animals are acclimatised to the finishing ration over different periods of time, depending on their sex.

On arrival, bulls are offered hay or grass silage and the finishing diet is gradually built up from a ratio of 25:75 finishing diet to forage to a 100% finishing diet by week three.

However, heifers are given a longer period of up to 50 days to adjust to the finishing diet.

Finishing times

  • Bulls are bought in at 10-14 months at 450-500kg liveweight and finished in less than 16-22 months
  • Heifers are bought in at 12-24 months at 450-500kg liveweight and finished in less than 22-30 months
  • Aim for cattle to kill out at 350-400kg deadweight at grades of R+/U-

Cattle are provided with a fresh TMR mix once a day using a Keenan mixer wagon fitted with an InTouch box. It takes up to four hours to feed the whole unit, with a total of eight loads mixed and fed daily.

The farm uses as much of the home-grown feeds as possible (see “Heifer and bull diets” for specifications).

Pens are numbered so the operator knows exactly how much to feed, with the InTouch box recording individual pen requirements and allocations.

One of the limitations of using the box is that it can only record the dry matter intake of up to 50 pens. As there are more than 102 different pens being fed on the farm, the farm has to manually observe leftover feed in bunks.

But Keenan has been very receptive to feedback, says Mr Myers, and as a result, technicians are already working on increasing this.

To achieve a typical turnaround of 120-140 days, weights are monitored regularly and there is little room for animals that don’t hit the grade. Cattle are given a two-week grace period.

“After that, they will be slaughtered regardless,” says Mr Myles.

Heifer and bull diets 




Brewers’ grains



Maize silage



Farm pre-mix (includes barley, maize meal, beet pulp, wheat distillers, molasses and minerals and yeast)



Wheat straw