|Charolais breeder David Johnson wins Zurich beef farmer of the year 2014
David Johnson along with his wife Paula and three sons farm over 300 acres of land in the village of Redcross, Co. Wicklow. This year they were awarded the prestigious Zurich beef farmer of the year award for 2014. A wonderful achievement taking into account the hard times beef farmers have been facing. So what is the key to this success story? Well the herd is made up of 100 suckler cows, eighty percent of which are charolais cross. David produces all his own replacements and only buys in stock bulls occasionally. Bull calves are slaughtered under16 months and heifers are finished at 20-22 months. The herd also comprises of a small number of pedigree Charolais and Limousin cows. But the real secret lies in the breeding and record keeping policies.
For years now David has been keeping records on all his cows and has now formed a family tree for every cow in the herd. He finds this invaluable when selecting his replacements and choosing cows to cull. Carcass grades, weights and age at slaughter of all cattle are recorded. This also helps to identify the most efficient and productive cows in the herd. He is quick to point out that the market at present is looking for carcass weights between 300kg and 400kg, so when selecting replacements he looks for cattle that are finishing early with good fat scores. According to David “All of the cows in the herd at present have a similar record kept on them, so it makes it easy to compare them. When a cow is performing the way I want her too, I generally keep her daughters. By this I mean cows with a big pelvic structure that calve well, not too much muscle, with proven fertility records and good bags of milk.”
However it must be noted that it’s not all about the cows, the stock bulls play a major role in all of this. When selecting stock bulls David focuses on milk and easy calving. “I like to see the mother of the bull before I purchase him, ideally with a good calf at foot with a nice bag of milk.” Two Charolais stock bulls that have had a major impact on the herd are ‘Blakestown Farouk’ and ‘Blakestown Seigneur.’ “They bred exceptionally well for me, leaving me cows with good milk and fertility.” The two charolais stock bulls on the farm at present are ‘Blakestown Gladiator Et’ a son of ‘Blakestown Artiste’ and ‘Blakestown Crusade’ a son of ‘Blakestown Aster’. “Crusade” was purchased back in November 2008 after winning the senior calf championship at the national charolais show for €6400. David explains “when using charolais bulls the size and grade will be there anyway, but you could lose milk or calving ease in one cross.” It is for this reason that he is so selective when choosing his stock bulls.
So what about the performance of the cattle, David’s last batch of 19 bulls sold to an average price of €1695 at an average carcass weight of 403kgs. All bulls graded a U= or better with an average kill out of 57%. Their performance on the farm resulted in an average daily live weight gain of 1.38kg/day. The last lot of 16 heifers averaged €1548 at an average carcass weight of 350kgs, with 80% of those grading a U. David also puts massive emphasis on the cull cow value of his charolais cows at slaughter. His last 5 pedigree charolais cows killed out at an average carcass weight of 466kgs, with a grade average of U-. The last 23 charolais cross cows that were culled killed out at an average carcass weight of 429kgs, with a grade average of R+.
It is very clear that the years of record keeping have really reaped rewards for David. But it is also clear that the Charolais cross is working extremely well for him and giving him the returns he’s looking for. Their costs of production are even more impressive leaving David with remarkable Net Margins. The performance, efficiency and mothering ability of the Charolais cattle on David’s farm are a real spectacle.