26 June 1998

British breeds best choice for top beef profits

Are British breeds best when

it comes to providing

traceable, naturally fed beef

at low cost? Sue Rider

visits a Surrey producer who

has no doubts that they are

INCREASED demand for traceable, naturally fed beef and the need to cut production costs makes traditional British breeds the sensible choice for todays profit conscious producer.

That is the belief of Surrey producer Barry Myers, who is combining the traditional breeds with comprehensive farm assurance, grass-based diets and careful marketing to secure his future in beef.

His thinking stems from 11 years experience with Herefords at Boundless Farm, Godalming, where he and his wife, Hilary, now run 35 pedigree cows and followers and 110 mainly Hereford x Friesian sucklers. The 130ha (320-acre) farm also carries 150 North Country Mules.

Mr Myers believes the traditional beef breeds have a marketing and cost edge over the Continentals. "They combine a traditional product with the ability to perform well on the most natural and cheapest feed there is – grazed grass," he says.

"The Hereford is the best converter by a long way; better than the Charolais, Simmental, Limousin, and even the Angus." He has tried these other breeds, and most recently the Angus, attracted by its marketing scheme, but still prefers the Hereford.

"We found the Angus x bulls ran to fat too early." But the premium for the Angus crosses is attractive, he admits, and this is where the breed scores over the Hereford. He is selling Aberdeen Angus out of Hereford x Friesian cows for 2.05p/kg deadweight for R 4Ls, as against just 165p/kg dw for the Hereford cross cattle.

"Clearly, Hereford breeders must develop a premium market in the same way," he says. "The consumer is looking for the credibility which comes from a naturally fed, traditional product. The Hereford can provide that just as well as, if not better than, the Angus."

With the backing of a good marketing scheme, the Herefords proven ability to perform well off grazed grass and its low maintenance requirements eliminating the need for concentrates, will ensure that in five years time it will be significantly more dominant than it is today, he says.

Part of that success will depend on good traceability, and to this end the herd has been closed for the past five years. Mr Myers breeds his own herd replacements using his homebred pedigree bulls.

About half the 100 crossbred sucklers are now second cross Hereford x Hereford Friesian. These not only offer better traceability but also carry more condition in winter, further reducing winter feed costs, he explains.

"The three-quarter bred cow carried more than enough milk for her one calf, and also holds her condition much, much better than the Friesian/Holstein cross. You can pick out these from the rest; the weight just drops off them in winter and they become razor-backed."

That said, winter feed costs for the Hereford crosses, and especially the three-quarter breds, are still very low compared with Continental breeds, he maintains. It costs £50-£60 to feed and bed a cow on the 15-20kg a head of silage and 3-5kg of straw that she requires from mid-November to the end of April.

"Charolais, Simmental, or Limousin cross sucklers would need some concentrate as well and even at 1-2kg a head a day that is 320kg over a 160-day winter or an extra £35," calculates Mr Myers.

The Herefords low maintenance requirement means they could easily out-winter, and he plans to keep 30-40 spring calvers – about 60% of the herd is spring calving – outside on lighter land this year.

This will further cut costs, which are already low at 130p/kg liveweight, including all rearing and suckler cow costs, rent and labour, and other overheads. Total revenue is 135p/kg lw – reflecting the tough market – and although that figure includes a 37p/kg subsidy, Mr Myers admits there is scant return for management effort.

Increased profits must come from reducing production costs. That means maximising use of grass by what he sees as the most efficient converter of feed – the Hereford – and better marketing.

Farm assurance, which used to be just a good marketing tool, will now be a necessity to secure premium markets and Boundless Herefords are FABBL and Freedom Foods Assured.

Males are kept as bulls and sold at 12-14 months at 550-600kg to Tesco, Waitrose or local abattoir Turners. Heifers are run on until 21-28 months at 530-580kg and sold to the same outlets.

Cattle are fed forage and a home-mixed a protein concentrate made up mainly of oats. &#42

The Hereford herd at Boundless Farm has been closed for the past five years, improving traceability – and it performs well on natural grass

THEYRETHEBEST

&#8226 Traditional, naturally fed.

&#8226 Homebred replacements.

&#8226 Low maintenance costs.