7 April 2000

Confidence in keeping bull calves well repaid

By Marianne Curtis

WHILE most Holstein bull calves were still going into CPAS, one Northern Ireland producer had the foresight to keep his, believing there was a market. With the first now ready for slaughter, margins are expected to exceed £100/animal.

Last spring, as well as keeping dairy bull calves from his own 120-cow herd, Tom Hegan of Spamount Farm, Rouskey, Co Tyrone, decided to rear 29 unwanted calves from local dairy farms. He also purchased 87 weaned calves at £27.50 a head.

"We were receiving £35/calf through CPAS but that isnt much and I thought there would be more to gain from keeping them," says Mr Hegan.

Several of the new-born calves were lost to E coli, and he plans to buy weaned calves in future because they are less susceptible to disease.

Calves are offered a £150/t starter pellet until eight-weeks-old when they move on to a £130/t grower pellet.

From five-months-old, a mix of 20% ground maize, 9% soya with the remainder made up of 50:50 barley and wheat and minerals is fed. Whole-crop silage is also offered at a rate of 2.3kg/head.

"Since we added maize to the ration, bulls have been much quieter; they seem more content."

Electric wires across the top of the 4.8m x 8.4m (16ft x 28ft) slatted floor pens also keep bulls quiet, preventing them from mounting and possibly injuring themselves.

Slatted floors and troughs outside pens mean labour is kept to a minimum. Feeding is done twice a week, taking half an hour each time and checking only takes a few minutes a week.

Cattle are slaughtered at 12-13 months at Dungannon Meats. First cattle sent for slaughter have averaged £380 and Beef Special Premium will bring the total to £480/head.

Excluding calf rearing, feed costs work out at about £244/head, according to Mr Hagen. Other costs have not been calculated in detail so far, but margins are expected to exceed £100/animal.

Returning to a more Friesian type animal could boost returns further, he believes. "I am becoming disillusioned with Holsteins which have a shorter life span, and are not suited to low input dairy production systems.

"They are also less suitable for beef production than Friesians. I am thinking of back tracking and breeding a more Friesian-type animal in future."