13 November 1998

Healthy margins earn top producers high accolade

TOP performance on beef, sheep and pig units was rewarded at last weeks MLC livestock awards in London.

Winner of the MLCs beef award is Brian Millar, who manages a herd of 120 Simmental cross Limousin sucklers in Aberdeenshire.

All progeny from the spring-calving herd at Russell Farm Enterprisess Ardfour Farm, Turriff is finished, with cows producing a gross margin of £297 a head, and £713 a grass hectare (£288/acre). The high margin a grass hectare is due to careful grassland management, with fairly intensive use of fertiliser allowing Mr Millar to maintain a stocking rate of 2.4 cows a hectare (1/acre), with calf liveweight gain of 1.3kg a day at grass.

Calves are weighed and performance recorded regularly, with a computer program used to analyse growth rates.

Mr Millar attributes much of his success to caring for calves from birth; 99 live calves are born for every 100 cows and 97 reared. But conception rates are also high, with only four barren cows in every 100. This is achieved through careful attention to condition score of cows throughout their reproductive cycle.

Despite that, cost of feeding cows are low, with cow concentrates costing only £9 a head and feeding straw £11 a head. Barley and straw produced from the 220ha (550 acres) of arable land at Ardfour are used in rations.

Low costs and high output are also key requirements for winners of the sheep producer of the year award, farmers weekly Management Matters contributors Alan and Lorna Jackson.

Achieving a rearing rate of two lambs a ewe a year, the Jacksons, from Rugley, Alnwick, North-umberland, combine their stockmanship and management skills to produce a gross margin of £766 a forage hectare (£309 a forage acre).

This figure was achieved before this years disastrous lamb trade, but the Jacksons have a high output flock, having bred a high output ewe for their female replacements, selecting desirable characteristics of the Milksheep and Texel. This has helped achieve a lambing percentage of 200%, and sales of young breeding sheep make a significant contribution to flock income.

The flock relies on using rams with high estimated breeding values (EBVs), bred in the nucleus Suffolk flock kept on farm. Selected rams are used on the flock, then sold at Kelso as proven shearlings.

Besides the breeding flock, grassland management and high stocking rates contribute significantly to financial success. Although the flock is run on poor rigg-and-furrow permanent pasture, an overall above average stocking rate of 11.9 ewes a hectare (4.8/acre) is achieved.

Finished lambs also perform consistently above average, with 80% sold grading as E, U, R, 2-3L, last year achieving a margin a kg carcass sold of £1.21 a ewe.

Consistently high physical and financial performance led to Bowes of Norfolks Cherry Tree unit, managed by Nigel Spalding and production manager Jim Burling, taking the pig award.

An indoor unit with 600 PIC Camborough breeding sows, it produces 30kg weaners for the companys own contract rearing scheme.

Dry sows are loose housed on straw, individually fed for the first seven weeks of pregnancy and then floor-fed in groups. After farrowing in Beacon Houses or ARM buildings, litters are weaned in batches of 40 at 24 days into a Bowes-designed outdoor kennel system. Weaner are split into groups of 20-25 at six weeks old, and transferred to the contract finishing system at 30kg.

Sows in the unit rear an average of 25 pigs a year, with an average of 11.65 pigs born alive in each litter, and 10.47 reared a litter. In the rearing herd, average daily liveweight gain is 434g, with a feed conversion of 1.65kg feed a kg liveweight gain. &#42