Beef farmers will have to embrace home-grown proteins in the future to improve efficiency and reduce input costs.

Speaking at a seminar at Grassland UK last week, beef farmer Paul Westaway of Melview Farming, Gloucestershire, said land and water limitations meant cows had to become more efficient.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting something different – beef farmers need to change.

“Concentrates will never be £100/t again – I’m currently buying 16% protein nuts at £230/t and nitrogen is at £300/t and rising. Carbon footprint/kg of beef is coming to the fore and we need to become more efficient.”

For Mr Westaway, growing lucerne at £81/t DM has proved highly successful. He now plants 20 acres of the crop, along with 13 acres maize, 28 acres Red Clover and Italians. The rest of the 170-acre farm is in five-year leys with white clover.

“Our farm is in such a low rainfall area that we wouldn’t be farming without lucerne or red clover.

“If you think you can plant lucerne, I would try it,” he said.

Mr Westaway ran through a number of key considerations when growing lucerne and summarised how the crop performed on his farm:

• Drill when soil temperatures are above 12C.

• Under-sow with Timothy for palatability and ground cover.

• Watch P and K levels through regular soil testing.

• Don’t feed to stock under six month old.

• Introduce the crop to the diet with good straw.

• It takes time to get going – in the first year you will only get one to two cuts and the crop will always look dead at Christmas.

• After the first year you will get four cuts (this compares to one-and-a-half cuts of grass silage on Mr Westaway’s farm).

• Cut just as the crop flowers and don’t allow to wilt for more than 24 hours

• Fourth-cut lucerne analysed at 32% DM, 12.6ME, 20.3% protein and 101.5mg/kg of vitamin E (which has been proven to increase meat shelf life).

• Mr Westaway has grown lucerne at a cost of £81/t DM.

• Aberdeen Angus bulls are achieving live weight gains of 1.5kg a day, with no cake.

Quality and cost of different feeds    
ME  Protein (%) £/t DM 
 Lucerne 12   19 81
Red clover 11 15  75 
Cake 12 16 207 

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