18 September 1998

Fast finish cuts demand on forage supply

FINISHING heifers rapidly cuts demand on limited forage supplies and increases turnover for one Derbyshire producer.

In at about 300kg liveweight and out at under 500kg is the routine for three-quarter Limousin and Limousin x Belgium Blue heifers at Ian Wildgooses Scarcliffe Hall Farm, Chesterfield, and it pays.

"Even though I may pay £50 to £70 a head above the average heifer price when buying stores, it does not pay to hold them back to grow bigger frames and achieve heavier finish weights on this system," says Mr Wildgoose.

He agrees with NBA recommendations that heifers held on tight rations in early life should be bigger framed and finish to target carcass weights of about 300kg without becoming fat, but is restricted by forage availability.

Aiming to supply local butcher and wholesale trade, Mr Wildgoose admits heifers finished on an intensive barley beef system grade above retailer specification of R4L, usually finishing fatter at about R4H. But they achieve £1.10 to £1.20/kg liveweight, more than retailer prices, he says. "Break-even is about £1.05/kg, reflecting the higher purchase price, but a quicker turnover helps maintain cashflow."

Once on-farm, heifer are offered hay before moving on to silage. After a fortnight, barley and a small amount of oats are introduced, the latter providing fibre to reduce risk of acidosis, rising to about 3.6kg barley a head a day (8lb a head a day). This is mixed with a molassed-based protein feed at a ratio of 1:5 protein feed to barley. Straw is fed as roughage.

Waste potatoes, usually small or damaged potatoes from the 180ha (360-acre) arable rotation are fed at each end of the day. "It is a good way of making use of farm waste – the principle behind the system is to use what we have got to feed the stock, and helps stimulate appetites."

On a high nutrient ration, he is wary of metabolic disorders. Heifers appearing off-colour are pulled back and put on a silage/straw diet. All heifers are drenched and clipped, initially along the back to avoid sweating, and will be fully clipped out later for the same reason.

Up to 12 weeks later, heifers are fit for slaughter at between 450kg to 500kg liveweight. Using visual and hands-on assessment along a heifers loin, back and tailhead areas, Mr Wildgoose selects stock which he says are fit, but not fat for market.

"Without doubt, there is a difference in finishing individual heifers. Some make the grade and other wont. Many heifers could finish to 550kg liveweight, but I cant do it here."

With 250 breeding ewes and 20 pedigree Limousin cows and followers, there is competition enough for forage from 24ha (60 acres) of grassland. "I do not believe in buying in. We use what we have got, whether it is cereals, potatoes, straw or silage, and it provides traceability, which is what everyone wants." &#42