1 March 1996

CARCASS THE CUSTOMER WANTS IS WHAT HE GETS

Close links between farm, processor and retailer have enabled one Clwyd based beef producer to match customer requirements and increase returns. Robert Davies reports

INVOLVEMENT with the ABP-Sainsburys partnership has not forced the Morris family to change their beef production system.

Taking 200 cattle a year directly to ABPs Ellesmere, Shropshire, plant and seeing their carcasses classified has, however, made them take even more care when buying-in stores. Most now come from special autumn sales of high quality Continental cross suckled calves.

Though semi-retired, Ieuan Morris does most of the buying. He seeks good conformation Charolais and Limousin-sired cattle weighing 450kg to 500kg, many of which are sourced from regular suppliers.

"We only buy bullocks, so we get cattle identification documents and know exactly where they come from," says Mr Morris, who farms with his son Eifion.

Crosshead

Until six years ago they ran a spring calving suckler herd at Pen Rhewl, Tregeiriog, Clwyd. This was phased out as calving clashed with lambing 2040 Welsh Mountain ewes. Store cattle are now finished in buildings sited 300m (1000ft) above sea level. In the past they were fed grass silage and home grown barley, but this winter whole-crop barley was tried for the first time and mixed with grass silage.

Cattle get 30kg/head/day of a mixture containing 25% whole- crop barley and 75% grass silage mixed in a feeder wagon. The whole-crop has a dry matter of 37%, a D value of 73.9, 12% crude protein and an ME of 11.6. First cut grass silage has a dry matter of 42%, 8.35% crude protein and an ME of 13.

Cattle are sold in batches of about 10 and the aim is to produce carcasses weighing between 280kg and 376kg on the hook, and classifying E, U, and R for conformation and 3 or 4L for fat cover. Over the last year 90% of cattle met the specification and earned the £6/head ABP-Sainsburys partnership premium.

"The premium is not very big, but we also get paid more for producing better quality carcasses," says Eifion Morris. "The chances of doing this consistently are improved because we make regular visits to the abattoir, and get a lot of information back from the company. We know the price we will get in advance, and get paid within a few days.

"To be able to supply Sainsburys we have to be members of Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb. To qualify we must not feed animal protein or growth promoters, and must record all veterinary treatments. It must also be possible to trace the cattle back to birth. In fact nothing has changed."

He and his father expect increased demand for tight carcass specifications, farm assurance and traceability to lead to more farm to chill cabinet partnerships. Their concern is that the narrow margins earned from beef finishing mean that many farmers cannot afford to change their systems unless they are offered more substantial premia for doing so.

Eifion Morris believes that demand for tighter carcass specifications, farm assurance and traceability would increase, resulting in more partnerships between producer and customer.

Cattle are fed 30kg/head/day of a mixture containing 25% whole-crop barley and 75% grass silage which is mixed in a feeder wagon.