CUBICLES EASE SWITCH TO BEEF

HOUSING BEEF cattle in cubicles may seem an unlikely concept, but it has the potential to save time, money and effort.

When Owen Vanstone, of Lewdown, Okehampton, Devon, quit dairying two years ago, he decided to finish beef cattle instead. But, with cubicle space for more than 100 animals, he was reluctant to remove existing facilities.

“We”d been finishing our own beef-cross calves for many years, so the move into finishing more was natural. But we had good, usable cubicles, so didn”t want to move to loose housing. In fact, we”d always housed our finishers on cubicles, so saw no need to change.”

Calves arrive at Muse Hill Farm at between three and four weeks old, although Mr Vanstone would rather they were nearer to 10 days old. “When they arrive they go into pens for rearing.

“But before they go out to grass in their first year we always put them in the cubicles. They make a bit of a mess in there, but it means they are trained for them when they come in later.”

The main benefit of cubicles is reduced straw use, reckons Mr Vanstone, who farms in partnership with his wife Joyce. “We converted a loose house to cubicles 10 years ago and I reckon straw use in cubicles is about one-sixth of that in a loose house. We bed them 2-3 times a week, and reduced straw use also means there is less manure to spread.

“Due to our location, we are unable to grow much arable, and with some animals housed for up to six months, we have to buy in most of the straw we need. But using cubicles keeps this to a minimum. And with beef cattle cubicle houses are only scraped once a day, compared with twice a day with dairy cows,” he explains.

On top of this, housing on cubicles avoids the need to clip cattle when they go to slaughter straight from housing.

 “We hardly need to clip a beast at all, in fact we”ve never clipped a heifer coming out of the cubicles and only about three steers a year need doing,” says Mr Vanstone.

OUTSIDE ACCESS

Cattle in the cubicle houses always have access to an outside yard, which makes it easier to bed them and scrape out, as they can go outside while the tractor is in the slurry passage.

However, it”s not just housing where the Vanstones are making use of ex-dairy equipment. Housed cattle are fed via out-of-parlour feeders, which were originally installed in 1983 for the dairy herd.

“All we have to do is program the feeders to give each animal its feed requirement each day. This means we can house a large number of cattle together, avoiding the need to have many small groups of cattle all being fed different amounts.

” To use the out-of-parlour feeders, cattle are simply fitted with a collar at housing. An electronic tag in the collar activates the feeder when the animal goes to it. “They take a few days to become adjusted to the system, but once they have learned what to do they take to it without a second thought.

Mr Vanstone will be unable to offer cattle their full ration through the out-of-parlour feeders this year because he is feeding home-grown crimped barley. “This clogs up the feeders, so will have to be fed along a feed barrier.”

However, while this means more work, it is worthwhile, reckons Mr Vanstone. “It”s a good feed for beef cattle and means we get some home-grown straw to keep costs down.

“But cattle will be receiving a high protein supplement through the out-of-parlour system. We”ll split this up throughout a 24-hour period. This will allow them to be fed semi-ad-lib,” he adds.