3 September 1999

Constant creep feeding raises value of calves

By James Garner

CLASSY stock still achieve premiums in livestock markets but selling quality stock means having the right feeding and breeding policy at Bulstrode Farm Holdings, Chipperfield, Hemel Hempstead.

Company directors Len Francis and Margaret Hill adopt a two-pronged approach of a structured suckled cow breeding policy and creep feeding calves to ensure top quality calves are on offer at autumn suckled calf sales in November.

The key to this is that calves must never go short of creep feed. "Its on offer from the time cows and calves are turned out in early May," says Mr Francis.

"We always like to see creep in the feeders from the time they are turned out. Calves may not eat much to begin with, but they build up to ad-lib feeding as they develop their appetites," he says.

Amounts eaten vary day by day. "A wet day means calves spend most of their time in the creeps taking shelter, so they eat more." Good summer grass growth also reduces creep consumption.

Last year, calves ate 0.24t of creep each; less than normal because it was a good grass year. Total cost a calf for a 16% protein compound creep feed was £24.23, compared with £27.53 the previous year, although creep feed was cheaper last year, adds Ms Hill.

Ad-lib creep feeding continues into the autumn, when 200 newly weaned spring-born calves are sold from the 240 mixed Continental cross cows, which is largely made up of Belgian Blue, Piemontese and Aubrac crosses.

Any remaining calves are finished, kept as replacements or shown in winter fat stock shows. "The idea is to market top quality calves that show they have been fed well. Purchasers soon realise they have bought good calves and buy again the following year."

However, repeat sales have been upset by the closure of Banbury market, where most calves were sold. Now they are marketed at Northampton and Thame.

But despite this set-back, average calf sales and the valuations of 30 unsold calves last autumn still averaged £270, with top prices of £462 for steers and £420 for heifers, leaving a gross margin a cow of £339.30 including subsidy.

"The first sale we make is the best one, and so we sell weaned calves at around £400 apiece rather than keeping them another year and probably not getting £600 for them," says Mr Francis.

Admittedly they receive no subsidy claims on any calves, which are all sold on a green CID, but this can be viewed in two ways, he says.

"The producer buying the calves knows that he will potentially have two subsidy claims from them, so is prepared to pay a bit more." &#42