Beef event


Event Date: Tuesday 13th of June 2023 11:59:59 PM
Programme & Full Detail: Open The Brochure
Event Location: Westmeath N91FX22


The Irish Grassland Beef event 2023 took place on the farm of Chris McCarthy, Crookedwood, Mullingar, Co Westmeath on Tuesday 13th June. A beautiful sunny June evening perfectly reflected the quality of stock on show on the farm on the evening which was kindly sponsored by FBD.

System overview

The first board of the walk looked at the overall system and was outlined by Chris and IGA council member Christy Watson.

Chris works full-time off the farm, but the level of detail evident on the farm simply does not happen without a lot of hard work, dedication, drive, and determination. The beef system in operation on the farm is probably best described as being meticulously planned simplicity.

And, a simple system it is. The three-quarter bred Limousin cow type on farm has power, milk, calving ability, strong carcase characteristics and fits perfectly into the McCarthy’s system. A terminal Charolais stock bull is used to produce top-quality U and E-grading bulls and heifers.

The 46-cow, spring calving herd calve in a tight block early in spring and get to grass typically in February where they are rotationally grazed on a well set up paddock system where one person can move stock at any time on their own. Well-managed swards combined with good soil fertility result in over 11tDM/ha of grass being grown from relatively low chemical nitrogen inputs at just 125kg/ha (102 units/acre).

This high-quality grass is efficiently converted to live weight through a milky cow and by a calf with a high genetic ability culminating in the consistent production of heavy weanlings in September, averaging 290kg for heifers and 330kg for bulls. Heifers are sold to a local farm in October each year at around 320kg to 330kg average weight. The bulls are housed in early November at roughly 380kg to 400kg where they go on to be finished at under 16-month bulls.

The bulls consume around 1.8t/head concentrate lifetime and have an average carcase weight of 478kg at 15.9 months of age. That translates to a lifetime performance of almost 1kg carcase/day. While these are heavy carcase weights, Chris works closely with his processor and they know he can deliver high conformation carcases with sufficient fat cover.

Production figures

The farm extends to 28ha which is all in one block. This aids labour management around moving stock thougout the grazing season.

The overall stocking rate on the farm is 2.05LU/ha. While this is almost double the average suckler farm in the country the stocking rate is not excessive with Chris under the 170kgN/ha limit.

A high level of output is what is driving the entire system. There was 769kg/ha liveweight or 374kg/LU produced in 2022.

From a financial perspective, this translates to a gross output of €2580/ha and a gross margin, before any support payments of €1283/ha.

The second stop of the evening looked at the role of grassland and the importance of soil fertility. IGA council member Paddy Casey outlined that the McCarthys achieve a long grazing season of over 270 days which maximises the proportion of grass in the diet and keeps production costs as low as possible in the cow-calf unit.

Indeed, grass and grass silage account for over 80% of the total feed used on the farm – considering that there is a bull beef system in operation and heifers are sold as weanlings this shows there is a high level of performance coming from grazed and conserved pasture.

Almost 90% of the farm has a soil pH of greater than 6.2. The entire farm is index 4 for P and 88% of the farm is index 3 for K. Higher fertiliser prices in recent years has seen Chris reduce the use of compound fertiliser which has resulted in K levels dropping on some parts of the farm something Chris is eager to correct in the coming years.

During the main grazing season there are just two grazing groups on the farm which means two things – firstly it is easier to manage fewer groups and secondly, there is significant grazing pressure through big group numbers so that once the group enters the 4acre paddocks they graze them out in three days and then move on to fresh pasture.

The third stop of the evening focused on animal health, both on the McCarthys farm and with more general advice being shared by UCD vet and lecturer Eoin Ryan. Chris is minimising the risk of purchasing replacements by using the same few farms each year for his stock while the bulls are on a pneumonia vaccination protocol prior to housing in autumn to minimise the risk at housing time. Chris is also using quiet wean nose paddles which he says takes the stress out of the weaning process.

The paddles are fitted to the nose of the weanlings and they are allowed out once again with the cows, however, they are unable to suck the cow. After four days the cows and calves are separated and the farm is having great success with it.

Finally, there was a stop in the bull shed with the remaining under 16-month bulls being finished currently on farm. Aidan Murray, Teagasc Beef Specialist who is no stranger to the McCarthy farm having dealt with them when they were participants of the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm programme in previous years, said that the success of the farm could not be attributed to any one thing and it was the sum of all the individual parts and the attention to detail that was seen onf farm.

The right cow for the system, good genetics that delivers high growth rates, excellent grassland management, a time efficient system, achieving high output per livestock unit and ultimately and most importantly consistently delivering a financial dividend at the end of the day.

He concluded that the farm ticks the boxes in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability which is key to the future of suckler beef production in Ireland.