Spring-calving dairy herds are near the start of the breeding season, and the decisions of individual farmers about which bulls to use this year will shape future environmental policies.
he choices on each farm will all add up to have a huge impact.
The beef sector has evolved dramatically over the last 10 years. Decoupling of CAP supports and the impact of convergence on payments have seen many smaller finishers squeezed out.
In 2022, out of a total national kill of 1.82 million cattle, 413,500 (or 23pc) came from just 160 herds. This percentage is expected to increase in the future.
The total prime kill was 1.349m, while the overall kill included 413,410 cows and 57,594 other cattle.
The finishers that are left are technically excellent, andrun highly efficient businesses, where every tiny detail is costed and measured.
For too long beef farming has been dismissed as being inefficient and amateurish compared to dairy farming. This is a lazy way of analysing the difficulties in the sector.
More Irish beef is coming from a smaller number of farms that are operating to the highest levels of efficiency. This means the gains that can be achieved by improving on farm-management reduces. The cattle are not kept on these farms for one day longer for finishing than is necessary.
In 2022 there were 727,018 dairy-bred calves by beef sires registered in Ireland. In addition, there are dairy-bred calves by dairy bulls born in 2022 which will be fit for slaughter in 2024 along with cull-dairy cows.
The numbers show how interwoven Ireland’s dairy and beef sectors are. There is a responsibility to work together to produce stock that can help to reduce our overall emissions.
Of the 727,018 dairy-beef calves registered last year, 24pc were registered to AI beef sires and 33pc to stock bulls, while 43pc had no sire recorded.
2030 is the target date for the proposed 25pc reduction in agricultural emissions, but with a new CAP reform package to be introduced in 2027, if we are not showing signs of coming close, we may be looking at policy reforms that will force changes on the more intensive farms.
Well-bred calves born next spring will be finishing in late 2025 or early 2026, and the more cattle that fall into the under 24-month category the better, not just for beef farmers, but also for dairy farmers.
The efficient beef farmers will always strive to improve daily live-weight gain, and shorten the number of days to slaughter, but they can’t do anything about the genetics of the nearly three quarters of a million dairy-beef calves born each spring.
The Teagasc MAC recommendations, if implemented on farms, will not achieve the 25pc agricultural emissions reduction target.
More care taken with the beef bulls selected on dairy farms this spring will help beef finishers lower the age of slaughter, and in effect reduce the pressure to cut dairy cow numbers.
The best and least divisive way for farmers to reduce the overall national herd is to breed stock that has the potential to finish at a younger age while meeting market specs.
The amount of cows a dairy farmer will be able to keep post-2027 will be influenced by whether the beef progeny can finish quickly and be off the national cattle balance-sheet by spring 2026.
Every effort needs to be made to use only the best beef bulls in all herds for this breeding season.
Angus Woods is a drystock farmer in Co Wicklow