24 November 1995

Go for high beef values to lift abattoir returns

Beef bulls with above average beef values are proving their worth on

one suckler unit in Worcestershire.

Rebecca Austin reports

USING Limousin bulls with high beef values across the 115-strong suckler herd at R &#42 Baines Wheeley Farm, Alvechurch, Hereford and Worcester, means improved progeny performance.

When compared with poorer bulls, farm manager Alan McKinnon believes these finished bulls and heifers gain an extra 0.2kg in daily growth rate. "In round figures, thats nearly an extra 20kg in the last three months of finishing," says Mr McKinnon. "Deadweight that works out at another 12kg a carcass, so selling at 224p/kg brings in about £30 more for each beast."

Superior feed converters

He says the superior cattle would not have eaten any more in that final finishing phase – in fact both groups would be maximising dry matter intake. It is just that they are superior feed converters.

Two years ago he bought his first bull with a high beef value from John Temple, Chase Farm, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands. Prior to that he ran 500 silage bulls each year which were bought in as calves. With the advent of BSE, this enterprise was scrapped at a time when it didnt make money and fixed costs were too high.

Some of the heifers in the system were bulled, out of which grew the present-day suckler herd. Breeding-wise it is predominately based on dairy cross Hereford and Murray Grey cows, with a smattering of three-quarter bred Limousins. Breeding all replacements, which calve at two years, in the last three years means the herd holds BSE-free status.

Mr McKinnon was using hire bulls across the suckler herd, but soon realised quality beef was the only way forward and began to re-adjust his policy. "Home beef consumption was falling and the export market looking increasingly tempting. But to cash in on that we needed to improve our end product," he says.

So he bought his first bull with a high beef value two years ago. Its estimated breeding values scored above average on growth rate and conformation, but below on birth weight. This way progeny grow well and grade higher on the hook, than stock sired by poorer bulls. But there are far fewer calving difficulties. Lower birth weights are compensated by superior genetics providing faster growth rates on a bigger frame. He also bought from a breeder who actively selects for temperament.

Performance traits

This bull was soon followed onto the farm by two others with the same trait performances – all bought for about £2500. Their beef values average LM28, they score about 600kg at 400 days and birth weights level at 38kg.

"All three have improved performance in their progeny. You can see that visually and in abattoir returns."

Over 100 finished cattle are sold from Wheeley Farm each year to Anglo Beef Processors (ABP), Shrewsbury, Salop. Because Mr McKinnon is selling onto the export market, he is not aiming for high daily liveweight gains. "I want my cattle to have large frames, about 400kg dw, because there is no weight penalty on the export market," he explains.

To be eligible for top money, carcasses need white fat covering. To achieve this Mr McKinnon adjusts the diet so cattle eat ad lib silage in their last few weeks.

With the herd calving over 10 weeks in March and April, calves are weaned at 310kg in mid-October. As well as ad lib silage they are also offered up to 3.6kg of 16% home-grown barley a day by March. At the beginning of May barley is gradually removed from the diet, substituted by increased silage intakes.

Cattle are sold from May, and all are gone by July. Over 80% classify -U or better and 50% R. Fat class 3 is the most common. A high killing out percentage converts an average 650kg liveweight to 365kg deadweight for bulls. Heifers kill out at 58% from 560kg to 580kg lw.

&#8226 For more information about the benefits of using high beef value bulls visit Smithfield FarmTech. &#42

&#8226 Wheeley Farm covers 263ha (650-acres), of which 73ha (180-acres) is cereals and 61ha (150-acres) woodland.

&#8226 115 suckler cows produce over 100 finished cattle for export market each year. All sired by Limousin bulls with above average beef values.

&#8226 Small herd pedigree Charolais cattle.

&#8226 500 North of England Mules lambing Feb and April. Early lambing flock tupped by high index Suffolk rams and the later flock by Texels.

Since Alan McKinnon bought Limousin bulls with high beef values, progeny performance has improved. This allows Wheeley Farm to export beef to the Continent, thereby securing prices at the top end of the market.