16 August 2002

Creep enables bulls to finish at optimum time

By Marianne Curtis

SWITCHING from steers to bulls has given one Norfolk beef enterprise a quicker return on capital. But creep feeding and precise rationing is essential to ensure cattle are finished at the optimum time.

All progeny from the 810-cow black Limousin herd at the 1540ha (3850 acre) Hall Farm, Reedham, are finished, says farm manager Gary Gray. "Steers and heifers are finished at about 22 months old and bulls leave the unit at 12-14 months old."

The suckler herd calves all year round and calves are weaned at about eight months old. "Unlike heifers and steers, bull calves need creep feed to remain on target for finishing at 12-14 months old," says Mr Gray.

"Without creep, bull calves gained 0.7-0.8kg/day to weaning. This increased to 1kg/day when we offered creep."

Rationing is done by Keenans David Hendy, who says: "The aim is to get weaned calves as heavy as possible and eating hard food. This reduces stress at weaning and minimises growth check."

Creep feed consists of 50% sugar beet pulp nuts, 25% home-grown rolled wheat and 25% rapemeal. When bulls enter the finishing unit they are fed a mixed ration which includes potatoes, rolled wheat and maize silage, says Mr Hendy (see table).

"This is fed to appetite and it contains 0.5kg/head/day chopped straw to stimulate the rumen. When cattle are being fed large amounts of concentrate rumen pH is low.

"Straw encourages cudding, which helps with saliva production to buffer the rumen. It can increase feed conversion efficiency by 15%."

Cattle dung is also less loose when mixed rations contain straw, which helps save on bedding straw, he adds.

The bull ration works out at 42p/kg liveweight gain compared with 55p/kg for the steer ration. "Cost/kg liveweight gain is a more meaningful way of evaluating rations than cost/t," according to Mr Hendy.

He adds that the farm should be able to achieve a bull ration cost of 40p/kg liveweight gain in the near future, particularly with wheat prices 15% down on last year. Fodder beet will also be used to bring ration cost down when it becomes available in October.

Lower feed costs for finishing bulls compared with steers plus a quicker turnover makes them an attractive proposition, says Mr Gray. "Average liveweight gain is 1.7kg/day. We have had no problems with aggression with bulls running in groups of 30-35.

"Our buyer, &#42 G Blake, of Felthorpe, which supplies Norfolk-based supermarket Roys is also happy to take them. Beef is sold under a Norfolk Beef label."

A fixed price/kg slightly above the national average is paid for a specification of R or better conformation and fat class 3 or 4.

Sired by Aberdeen Angus or Blonde dAquitaine bulls, bulls usually grade U or R with a carcass weight of 340kg, says Mr Gray. "They are also trimmed to the old UK carcass specification which equates to about 3% less trim than the new EU spec."

Heifers and steers on the unit are sold at 540kg and 620kg liveweight, respectively. These are fed a less concentrated ration twice a day to ensure steers do not become too fat before 22 months when they are eligible for the second Beef Special Premium claim. &#42

SUCKLER BULL BEEF

&#8226 Faster turnover than steers.

&#8226 Better feed conversion.

&#8226 Need intensive diet.

Hall Farm bull beef diet

Feed kg

Straw 0.50

Pulp nuts 1.00

Chips 6.00

Maize silage 4.00

Potatoes 6.00

Rolled wheat 2.50

Premix 3.50

Minerals 0.15