Charlie Smyth on the farm in Killinkere.

Switching farming system to improve profitability

“I decided to change traditional beef farming to a dairy to beef system, my father Charles had been a dairy farmer years ago, before exiting in 2005. Beef prices were very low at the time so I decided to make a switch. The current system involves buying young calves at three weeks and fattening them up to kill them,” said the Killinkere farmer.

Charlie’s soil type makes him more suited to a dairy to beef system as opposed to dairy farming, as he explains.

“Our farm is a fragmented holding with several out farms. It was set up for dairy farming but not viable for dairy farming at the numbers that were needed.

"With heavy clay soils, you can rear dairy to beef calves at a high stocking rate without affecting nitrates. I raise 100 calves off 20 acres before, going into the shed for the winter on a ration diet. I still have calves on grass in November, without affecting the ground quality. Cows are a lot heavier on ground, and I would have to go with lower stocking rate."

Over time Charlie gradually increased both the scale and the efficiency of the farm.

“We bought 40 at first but now we’re up to 120. Initially we started killing them at 28 months and now, two years later, we’re killing them at 21 months with some of them at 19 months, although some run on a few months longer. By knocking those couple of months off the production cycle, it allows us to become more profitable,” he explained.

Charlie has been able to achieve this profitability by taking small steps that all add up to big gains.

"We improved our grassland management by doing things such as measuring grass, getting out earlier in Spring for a longer grazing season and making better silage. These all caused the average daily gain to improve a small bit, but over two years it makes a big difference,” he outlined.

Calf selection proved to be a big help to achieving higher profitability.

“We improved the type of calves we use, going for higher merit calves. We also have mixed breeds, everything from Friesians, Aubracs, Herefords, Angus, Belgian Blues and Charolais. We experimented to see what would work the best. You get different results from different animals. We have a lot of heifers with the aim that heifers would finish quicker and younger than steers. It gives us a better cash flow, earlier in the year,” detailed Charlie.

This also involved buying from trusted farms and taking a scientific approach to calf rearing.

“We would have bought calves at the mart years ago from a lot of different sources. Now we focus on a 3-4 amount of farms, one of them being Gurteen Agricultural College. We buy from trusted sources with good genetics and good data. There is a lot of data available on the farms about animals. We weigh them five times a year. By being able to weigh them we can vaccinate at the correct weights, which is a lot more reliable. We can see what breed works well for us. We put a lot of different forces into play when selecting the right calves for the farm." He highlights the Commercial Beef Value (CBV) model. "We are trying to buy calves with this, not used a lot at the minute, but it will hopefully be used a lot more in the marts next spring.”

Charlie also balances this with poultry farming, as he farms 4,400 free-range hens.

"I get up at 7am and spend three or four hours at the hens. It works well with dairy to beef, because it allows for flexibility. We supply our eggs to Monaghan Nest Box. My father Charles and my mother Noeleen are semi-retired but they're a big help with it."