The recent winners of the Farmers of the Future (FOTF) competition, hosted by the ABP, has truly lived up to its billing as a means of encouraging young people into beef production.
In fact, the initiative has gone more than a step beyond this by also confirming that there is a next generation of farmers coming through with real talent and ability when it comes to producing beef of the highest quality.
Launched on the ABP Stand at Balmoral Show in 2015, the project challenged school children between the ages of 12 and 16 years old to give their perspective on what is meant by the term: ‘best beef farming practice’. And, just for good measure, each of the two overall winners were provided with six Aberdeen Angus weanling bullocks and then allowed to implement their theories in full.
“It has been an amazing experience,” confirmed 17 year-old Owen McGreevy, from Dromore in Co Down.
“I was given a real opportunity to do what I have also wanted to do: rear cattle of my own. Having access to the management advice from ABP’s Blade Farming team and professional veterinary input, when required, has added immensely to my skills’ base.”
The McGreevy family run a suckler beef enterprise with a number of the home-bred calves brought through to finishing weights.
The other winner was 15-year old Caleb Haffey, from Magheralin in Co Down who was just 12 when he entered yet impressed the judges with his handle on the numbers. He is in full agreement with the views expressed by Owen.
“I want to follow a career in farming,” he said.
“At home we milk cows. But we also keep beef cattle and sheep. I have a small ewe flock of my own, which is managed as a standalone venture. And I really enjoy this. But to have the opportunity of managing the six Angus bullocks from weaning through to beef really was a dream come true.”
The two groups of calves were delivered to their respective farms in April 2016. The prize fund included the cost of the weanlings, all concentrate feeds used. This totalled £7,000.
The boys would also be allowed to keep the cheques issued by ABP, reflecting the full value of the animals at slaughter. From the outset, both Owen and Caleb were determined to get as much growth as possible from grazed grass and silage. ABP Blade Farming co-ordinator Arthur Callaghan was a regular visitor to the McGreevy and Haffey farms. Issues relating to grassland management and the implementation of effective animal health policies were discussed in depth.
“During the first season at grass the weanlings received 2kg of meal per day. Thereafter meal supplementation was removed post January and throughout the second grazing season.”
Owen explained: “This approach really helped to boost daily liveweight gains. The feeding rate was pushed up to 4kg per day in the weeks leading up to slaughter.”
Caleb took a similar approach with his cattle kept out at grass until the end of November last year. He also ensured that the then yearlings were given every chance to secure as much liveweight gain as possible from grazed grass, post turnout in 2017. It took an average of 16 months for the boys to get the steers through to finishing weights.
“The results achieved speak for themselves,” confirmed Arthur Callaghan. “The final carcase weights ranged from 350kg to just over 400kg (averaged 375kg). This is a tremendous level of performance, and reflects a management input on the part of Owen and Caleb, which any specialist beef producer would be proud of.”
Both boys have now received their cheques and are deciding on how they can invest this money in their futures.
“For me the priority was getting my driving test and putting a car on the road,” said Owen. “Both those boxes have now been ticked. With the money that was left over I was able to buy a choice Charolais breeding heifer, which will be put to the bull over the coming months.”
For his part, Caleb will be investing the money received into his own burgeoning enterprise on the home farm. “I enjoyed every minute of taking part in the competition process and then having the cattle to rear at home. I have learnt a lot about managing stock and I would encourage as many young people as possible to take part in the next generation of this competition.”