19 July 2002

B&W bulls a viable profit option

By Marianne Curtis

WITH cheap cereal prices on the horizon, it might be worth taking a look at finishing Holstein bulls, believes one Derbys producer.

Quentin Waring wants to see more British cattle finished to avoid processing capacity disappearing and long-term shrinkage of the beef industry. Finishing Holstein bulls is one way to prevent this, he says.

"There are still many Holstein bull calves shot on dairy farms. Although they are worth little, it is better to finish them to reduce the amount of Argentinean beef coming into the UK."

Mr Quentin, who farms 128ha (320 acres) at Grange Farm, Belper, has collected Holstein bull calves from local dairy farms to rear and finish for three years. "Sourcing animals locally reduces haulage cost and health problems. We bring calves in all year round to take pressure off dairy producers who want them out of the way quickly.

"It is sad to see calves shot because producers believe their conformation is too extreme. As long as animals are healthy and grow well, conformation and colour are irrelevant for this type of system."

Once calves reach his unit, they are reared on milk powder until 6-7 weeks old and compound rearing pellets to 12 weeks old. Calf rearing costs work out at 76p a day, says Mr Waring.

They are reared in batches of 3-5. "Rearing in small batches helps health, as calves are less stressed. We have also recently moved calves into a different shed from older stock to reduce pneumonia risk. Although we have given no pneumonia vaccine so far, we will move to vaccination soon at a cost of £10 a calf."

Observation plays a key role in reducing ill health and mortality, he says. "Calves come from farms with different disease profiles. Being aware of this helps us prevent potential problems. Out of 250 calves entering the system last year, we only lost 10."

At 12 weeks old, calves move on to the cereal-based ration they remain on until slaughter at 12 months old. Home-grown cereals from the farms 80ha (200 acres) are key to the systems profitability, says Mr Waring.

"With £55/t off-farm prices forecast this year, cereals are worth little to sell by the time drying costs are deducted. Finishing cattle provides a way to boost returns."

Some winter barley is harvested two weeks earlier than usual at 30% moisture for crimping. "Crimping costs £15/t including additive. Crimped barley is mixed 50:50 with rolled cereals. Rolling costs £8/t."

Bread, at £63/t, is also used in the ration when available and a protein concentrate, costing £160/t, is mixed in a 1:4 ratio with bread and cereals.

"I tried feeding all crimped cereals, but cattle do better on a mixture of crimped and rolled. Including crimped cereals reduces bloat risk and makes the ration moist, increasing palatability. Cattle also have access to fresh straw, supplied separately from bedding straw to ensure they eat sufficient for a healthy rumen."

Home-produced straw and cereals, plus available housing, is a bonus for those considering finishing Holstein bulls, says Mr Waring. "It is wise to avoid making large investments in setting up a system because the returns are too low. After all costs, I am left with an average £80 a head including Beef Special Premium and Slaughter Premium."

Cattle are marketed through Peak District Beef and Lamb, owned by Meadow Quality. "Holstein beef is sold into the processing sector and competes directly with imported beef. Most carcasses grade O- and are worth £1.45/kg deadweight. Cattle are weighed two or three times during finishing and we aim for a slaughter weight of between 500kg and 550kg."

Selection of cattle at the optimum time and weight is essential to maximise returns, warns John Williams of Meadow Quality. "It may be tempting to keep cattle a little longer to put extra weight on them, but costs will outweigh potential gains. They should be marketed no later than 13 months old."

Marketing cattle through a group has advantages, says Mr Waring. "Transport of cattle to the abattoir is taken care of and it saves spending a day in an auction mart seeing cattle sold."

The marketing group also guarantees payment and it can secure better prices because it is marketing larger volumes of cattle than individual producers, argues Mr Williams. &#42

Keeping Holstein bull calves in small groups to minimise stress and feeding home-grown cereals can be profitable, says Quentin Waring.

&#8226 Finishing opportunity.

&#8226 Source locally.

&#8226 Home-grown cereals help.