23 August 2002

Forward thinking gives market what it wants

By Robert Davies

Wales correspondent

MODERN, forward thinking and efficient management is the key to one north Powys producers ability to supply the type of lamb and beef cattle the market wants.

Visitors to a farm open day heard consultants from MLC and ADAS praise the way John and Sally Jones exploited the forage growing potential of the 215ha (530 acres) at Tir Newydd, Maesmawr, in producing high quality lamb and beef.

On average lambs weighed 19 to 19.5kg on the hook last season, 97.5% classified R or better for conformation and only 4% were over fat. They were sold through Welsh Livestock Marketing, the Aberystwyth-based company, which procures stock for supermarkets directly from farms.

More than 90% of the lambs sold reached the specification set by Waitroses farm assured lamb scheme, earning the Joneses significant premiums.

Tir Newydds main flock of 1100 Welsh Mules lambed indoors after March 23 this year, having scanned at 195%. Lamb mortality was just 5%.

About 200 older ewes lambed in February. The aim was to get one or two extra lamb crops out of ewes which would have been drafted in the past. This year these scanned at 178%, and the third lambs in any sets of triplets were sold as cade lambs for £12 to £18 a head.

Ewes and lambs stayed in the shed for two weeks and lambs were creep fed at grass. They were sold at about 12 weeks old. In 2002, about 70% of ewes were sold immediately after the retention period for £32 a head. The other 30% would be kept for another year.

The policy was to buy ewe lamb replacements from the local breed society sale and keep them empty. They came from the same farms every year and the aim was to buy replacements with scrapie genotyped sires.

Mr Jones explained that only Suffolk rams were used. "Half of the 19 tups on the farm have full performance records, but the target is to use only rams with performance histories. The second target is to use rams with a scrapie resistant genotype of ARR/ARR."

The Joneses beef enterprise consists of intensive finishing of Charolais cross bulls out of the farms 100 Hereford x Friesian and Limousin cross sucklers. These were also marketed through WLM. They were slaughtered in mid-Wales and ended up clearly branded as Welsh beef in chill cabinets in Safeways Welsh stores.

During an ADAS trial on the farm in 2000, when bulls were marketed through a different company, finishers were monitored for 170 days from 374kg to slaughter at 654kg liveweight. That is a growth rate of 1.65kg a day.

Carcasses weighed an average of 379kg and all classified -U or better for conformation. The value of net output during the monitored period was £327 a bull, when Beef Special Premium, Extensification Premium and Slaughter Premium were taken into account.

A simple, home-grown, cereal-based concentrate costing £106/t was fed, with concentrate cost totalling £196 a bull. Cost of feed/kg of gain was 69p. Straw and vet charges pushed up variable costs to a total of £217 a head, leaving a gross margin of £110 a bull.

Mr Jones said his aim was to stay in business by producing quality lamb and beef for the top end of the market. That meant using good genetics and productive grassland. His most recently purchased of three Charolais bulls had an EBV of 19 and cost £1900.

"Eating trials have shown steak from Hereford cross cows is preferred. We buy the 15 replacement heifers we need each year from farms which still run British Friesian type cows."

As Tir Newydd is one of 10 Farming Connect sheep and beef development programme demonstration farms, herbage growth rates are being recorded. Silage had been taken from 59ha (146 acres) and hay from 7.6ha (19 acres).

Open day visitors saw land sown in May 2001 with a mixture of AberLinnet hybrid ryegrass, AberDart intermediate ryegrass and Merviot red clover. This finished lambs last August and September and produced high quality silage this year, which would be a useful feed for finishing heifers from the suckler herd. Mr Jones also planned to use the aftermath for lamb finishing again this autumn. &#42

John Jones beef bulls, bred by using high EBV Charolias sires, grew at 1.65kg a day in ADAS trials on the farm.

&#8226 97.5% of lambs in grade.

&#8226 Performance recorded tups.

&#8226 Buying high EBV bulls.