Clonard, co. When David Craig, a 23-year-old beef farmer from near Meath, decided to set up a calf-beef operation on leased land, he knew that to make it economically viable, he needed to secure “every penny possible” from the market for his cattle.
Gurteen College, Co. After completing a two-year agricultural course in Tipperary focusing on dry goods management, David decided to rent land and set up his own farm.
talking to AgrilandDavid explained: “I currently rent two farms, about 80ac between the two.”
David’s father, Clive, is a beef and sheep farmer and David explained: “Our business is that between the two of us we buy calves but he (Clive) grows them on contract for the first year and then they come to me. second year.
“I take them as yearlings and then they go to grass. I mostly try to push them on good grass in paddock systems and finish them by the second winter.
The heifers David has finished this year are the first of his cattle to be processed by ABP Food Group. Advantage beef programthis rewards farmers who meet the scheme’s criteria with a 20c/kg bonus.
Commenting on the Advantage Beef Programme, David said: “I first heard about it earlier this year and signed up for the scheme in February 2022 and there is a great team there to help me through the process.”
“The security of an extra 20c/kg to meet the program criteria is a huge help and you are always guaranteed a market for your cattle.”
David had never finished cattle with a processor before and noted that the Advantage Beef Program staff helped prepare the finished cattle and arrange transportation to get the finished heifers to the factory.
The process from calf to beef
David explained that over 60 calves were purchased to breed this spring. Commenting on the health of the calves, he said: “We have an excellent veterinary practice at Ballivor with a great team of vets who are very focused on calf health.
“Every spring when we buy our calves, we have a calf health protocol.”
95% of the calves David buys come directly from local dairy farms where the calves are 3-6 weeks old.
“The rule of thumb here is that each calf is given two bags of milk replacer before weaning.”
“We start them at a calf nut and gradually increase the level as we go. Calves eat grass in the first season, but we eat more comfortably in June and July when grass is plentiful.
“We cut them off feed for six to eight weeks at the end of the summer and the calves then go back on feed for the whole winter. Calves are weaned before the second season on grass.”
“The dry spell was a big problem here this summer,” David said.
“The soil type here would be really sandy and the grass growth slowed down dramatically and overnight the grass was almost gone.
“We increased feed with the calves and some groups had to go back to silage for a while.”
All silage made on the farm is fixed in round stacks. David explained that he takes great care to cut the silage at the right time and allow it to dry.
“We mow it ourselves, chop it, and weigh the bales ourselves,” he said.
David is fortunate that his brother works full-time for a local contractor, and he admits that this helps him a bit in closing his silo during the busy silage closing season.
Last fall, cattle were placed in mid-October, and David said the reason for the slightly earlier placement date was “to keep grass in front of the ewes and to keep grass for early lambing ewes.”
Commenting on the entry date, David said cattle go to graze from mid to late February with the goal of having all cattle on grass by March 17.
“The goal is to finish all cattle by the second winter, but the reality is that some cattle are not finished by January of the second winter.
The last of the 2020 calves was completed in mid-January this year.
As David also works off the farm, he has started keeping his 2021-born pioneer heifers to finish as it makes it easier to drive them out of the barn as the evenings get dark.
“The first pick for the factory came entirely from grass, the second pick came mostly from grass, and the third pick came from the barn,” he said.
Heifers are fed meal and silage and have access to the back of the hay bed while housed.
David also has a keen interest in sheep.
“I have a small commercial flock, but I keep mainly pedigree Belclare and Texel ewes in my flock,” he said.
“We use the Belcare ram in the commercials and keep their ewe lambs for replacements.
Between David and his father, depending on the year, 350-400 sheep are lambs.
David has a passion for breeding sheep: “I love working with breeding sheep. All summer you are away showing sheep and meeting people with similar interests. It’s the social side of it all.”
Commenting on how his flock’s progeny have performed at agricultural shows this season, David said: “The show has been excellent this year. We had a number of champions and reserve champions.
“We came second with ewes at the Tullamore Show and in terms of sales we had a complete clearance of rams in both sexes this year.”
David’s stud prefix is Abbeyview, his father’s stud prefix is Clonard.