27 November 1998

Cheap feed system does the business

By James Garner

PRODUCING beef profitably has been a precarious task over recent years, but Otley College in Suffolk believes it has some answers.

A margin of 9p/kg liveweight sold over feed costs in tough economic conditions can be seen as a success, said Rumenco, joint sponsors of a trial at the college.

Using a low cost feeding system cattle finished at 550kg and profits amounted to £50 each plus a subsidy claim. But as David Thornton, Rumenco technical product manager, explains: "Low finished prices reduced profits. However, I believe the results indicate a profitable system for the future.

"We tried to design a low cost feed system that will allow producers to finish animals safely and profitably. By using a high proportion of brewers grains, barley and straw we have a reliable and highly palatable diet thats high in protein.

"This system could be attractive to producers with access to straw, barley and buildings. Feed costs are low at 66p/kg/day and with growth rates of 1kg/day there is potential for profit.

Overall the diet works out at 17% protein, supplying 11MJ/kg of energy from 3kg of rolled barley and ad lib brewers grains. "This is more like a dairy diet in terms of protein level than a beef fattening diet," says Mr Thornton.

"As cattle approached finishing weight they were eating 30kg/day of brewers grains. Straw was on offer ad lib to add some long fibre, improving digestibility and helping rumination."

Neil Ridley, Otley College beef project manager, says that making use of surplus winter labour and redundant buildings may be attractive in an arable area such as East Anglia.

"We tried to think ahead to tomorrows beef production realising the need for a profitable, welfare conscious system that meets supermarket welfare conditions.

"We bought 40 dairy cross steer calves weighing 130kg each, from as few farms as possible to improve traceability. But we were looking for a mix of sire types to see how breeds compared meaning we sourced calves from 10 farms.

"There was little difference between breeds, although it was more difficult to get the Hereford cross calves to reach slaughter weight with good conformation grades and without being too fat."

Average slaughter liveweight was 553kg with the Continental cross calves producing R- and 0+ carcass conformation grades. While the Hereford calves were mainly 0+ with some 0- grades.

Regular weighing and handling ensured they met the target of 1kg/day liveweight gain "This improves their temperament meaning they are easier to load and transport reducing stress and improving meat quality," says Mr Ridley.

Although farm assurance is fragmented its here to stay, he says. "In the future traceability and farm assurance will become more important, so we joined up with Tescos producer club.

"Its so important for there to be communication down the food chain and this means talking to supermarkets, so you understand what their customers require. "

"How many producers know how their cattle taste? We followed these animals all the way through the food chain to find out about taste quality and tenderness, which is a tremendous boost, helping to target future production."

Feeding Ration

&#8226 Ad-lib brewers grains.

&#8226 Barley at 3kg/head/day.

XP yeast.

&#8226 Vitamins and high calcium mineral.


&#8226 Ad-lib brewers grains.

&#8226 Barley at 3kg/head/day.

&#8226 XPyeast.