A more ruthless and no-nonsense approach was advocated by Northern Ireland farmers Sam Chesney at a series of four talks in Wales earlier this week (February 6th and 7th).
The meetings were organised by the National Beef Association (NBA) and Farming Connect and saw Mr Chesney, a NBA NI Council Member, visit Machynlleth, Brecon, Caernarfon and St. Asaph.
Mr Chesney is the current Farmers Weekly Beef Farmer of the Year and reigning Ulster Grassland Society overall winner. He put this success down to a series of cost-cutting measures within his suckler herd of 150 Limousin crosses at Kircubbin, Co. Down, Northern Ireland.
His main message was “not to keep passengers”, be they empty cows or heifers over 24 months not calved.
“Why would anyone keep a heifer running about for an extra year?” he asked, saying getting heifers to calve down at 24 months was easier, as younger females were more fertile, gave more milk and were easier to calf.
Showing it did not affect fertility later in life, Mr Chesney said his calving index was 353 days for the main herd but 338 days for second calvers. This very impressive calving index was a real money spinner, he said.
Comparing 350 days to the UK average of 400 days, he said that was 50 days fewer keeping a cow, saving £1.50 a day and £75 in total. And 50 days growing a calf at 2kg a day, worth £2 per kg, was £100. This represented a saving of £175 per cow, or £26,250 over his 150 cows.
“It’s a very simple way of saving a lot of money very quickly,” he said.
Paddock grazing high clover swards were also a money spinner, he said, claiming his fertiliser bill had halved, concentrate feeding had dropped from 1,244kg per cow unit to 785kg, and he had too much silage. Grass with 22% protein and 13 ME could put on 1kg of daily liveweight gain for only 16p, he said, keeping finishing costs down but also boosting the fertility of his suckler cows and helping keep his calving index so low.
While he used his Single Farm Payment to invest in infrastructure on the farm and not supplement his income from the cattle, Mr Chesney said he was very worried about CAP reform and feared his future payments would be only one-third of what he currently got. He therefore recommended farmers were members of an organisation such as the NBA, who would “knock on the right doors” and fight on behalf of beef farmers.
Joanne Pugh, NBA Assistant Director, picked up this theme saying that even though the CAP reform proposals would change beyond all recognition between now and 2014, now was the time to take action.
She said: “These may only be proposals at the moment but there’s no point waiting until the second or the third draft to see what we might be facing. Now is the time to voice ideas and plant seeds of thought with the people in power to see how much can be changed at this early stage before things get set in stone.”
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