7 June 2002

Beef finishings faster on 50% whole-crop diet

By Wendy Owen

North-east correspondent

CHANGING from a grass silage and concentrate diet to a ration where whole-crop barley makes up 50% of the forage ration has brought beef finishing times forward by at least three months on a Cumbria farm.

About 50 Aberdeen Angus-sired beef steers from the dairy herd are reared each year at Malcolm and Celia Robinsons Aikhead farm, near Wigton. On the old system, crimped barley and silage were fed and cattle were finished at about 27-28 months. But since 2000, when whole-crop barley replaced crimped grain, finishing times are nearer 24 months.

For the last nine weeks of the finishing process, the daily cost of the whole-crop/silage ration, plus additional bought-in concentrate pellets is £1.02 a animal. This produces a liveweight gain of about 1.4kg a day.

The Robinsons say introducing whole-crop has brought great benefits to their 60ha (150 acre) farm. Not only is it easy to grow, with just one application of fertiliser and possibly some chemical weed control, but it also fits in well with silage production.

Last year, they chose the spring barley variety Hart, and this year Static has been sown.

"We are looking for a disease-resistant variety," says Mr Robinson. "It also needs to be early-ripening because contractors are used for harvesting and they need to come and harvest second cut silage at the same time. We have to be able to cut both crops over a couple of days – usually during the last week in July," he explains.

Barley is cut as it reaches the cheesy-ripe stage, when you can penetrate grain with a thumbnail. The crop is put through a rolling mill on the contractors self-propelled machine as it is harvested. This crushes straw as well as grain and makes it much easier to consolidate whole-crop in the clamp.

A combined bacterial inoculant and acid-based additive, Double Action Ecocorn, is added. Once in the clamp, whole-crop is rolled and double-sheeted, with extra care being taken to ensure it is airtight.

Mr Robinson uses an ordinary feeder wagon to dispense the ration to cattle. He layers silage with whole-crop in roughly equal amounts, adding minerals and vitamins. Two feeds a day of a concentrate pellet are also given.

"Apparently this type of ration can be deficient in vitamin D, so we take care when choosing our vitamin supplement. Apart from that, it is a simple system which works well.

"Cattle keep clean on the whole-crop diet because muck is drier. This is an important factor, as they are loose-housed and straw is expensive."

Calves come into the system from the dairy herd between August and spring. Finished animals are usually sold in batches of five or six at a time deadweight through the local auction. The Robinsons aim to attract high prices by marketing stock from November to Christmas. If that is not possible animals are held until February, when prices begin to rise again. Grades have consistently been at RU and R4L standard and they average about 330kg deadweight. &#42

Cattle grow faster and keep cleaner on a diet which has whole-crop as half the forage supplied, says Malcolm Robinson.

&#8226 Fewer days to slaughter.

&#8226 Cleaner cattle.

&#8226 Simple system.


DM 37.3%

Energy 11.1ME

Starch 17.7%

Crude protein 9%

Ammonia 6.7 (% total N)

PH 3.7