13 December 1996

Giving the market what it demands – and fast

Market demands following the BSE crisis have forced one Lincs producer to change his finishing system. Emma Penny reports

FINISHING cattle faster, at lighter weights and on a cereal-based diet is the key to maintaining markets for one Lincolnshire producer.

Charles Dobson farms 500 spring-calving suckler cows at South Elkington Estates near Louth. He has changed his finishing system this year to produce the type of cattle that the market now wants.

"I have always relied on a silage-based ration to finish bulls and heifers up until now. Last year, bulls received 4.5kg home-grown barley, 1.5kg home-grown beans and 10kg silage a head a day, aiming to finish at a carcass weight of 330kg."

But since the BSE crisis Mr Dobson has aimed to finish cattle more quickly – achieved by changing the ration – to reduce cost a kilo liveweight gain.

Bulls, which are weaned in November, start off receiving 80% of the full ration, which is then stepped up. The full ration is 6kg barley, 1.5kg beans, 2.5kg maize gluten, 1.5kg chopped straw and 2kg pot ale syrup, and 80g of minerals a head a day fed as a complete diet. Total cost of the 17% protein ration is about 70p a day.

"By feeding more concentrate we should finish them faster, and the addition of chopped straw means the cattle should be able to digest cereals better. I am hoping for a daily liveweight gain of 1.8kg on this ration, and to finish cattle at 12-13 months rather than 14-15 months."

Despite the reduced demand for bull beef, Mr Dobson plans to keep male calves entire. "Bulls finish more quickly, reducing costs."

Heifers are housed at weaning, and fed 2.5kg barley, 1.25kg beans, 2.5kg chopped straw, 2kg pot ale syrup and 100g minerals a head a day at a cost of 67p a head a day.

About 140 heifers – from milky dams – are kept as replacements each year, and are turned out to grass in spring. The remaining heifers are finished on the ration, aiming for a carcass weight of 220kg.

Mr Dobson is hoping that better daily liveweight gain and faster finishing from the revised rations will reduce costs further and improve margins.n

The 500 sucklers at South Elkington Estates are fed chopped straw as part of a complete diet to improve feed use and reduce demand. Rations for finishing cattle have also been changed to meet market demands.


SYSTEM CHANGES


&#8226 Cattle finished more quickly.

&#8226 Aiming for lighter weights.

&#8226 Silage to cereal-based diet.