14 March 1996

High efficiency wins top producer award

Achieving a gross margin of more than £900/ha earned Scottish farmer Matthew Mauchlen the title MLC Beef Producer of the Year. Emma Penny reports

RELIANCE on grass, a high stocking rate and good use of resources contribute to a total output of £489 a cow and gross margins of £353 a cow and £905/ha (£366/acre) on one Perthshire unit.

According to farm manager, Matthew Mauchlen, key to the 150-cow Simmental cross and Luing suckler unit at Ben Challum Farms, Woodburn, Crieff, is highly efficient use of resources.

"There are 110 cows on this farm and 40 on another. The stocking rate here is 3.9/ha and reseeding or silage will push that rate up further. We also have some rougher ground where the spring calving cows outwinter."

Because the herd is outwintered, Mr Mauchlen believes the business has to be run so that each and every calf is not vital to the profitability of the business. "Outwintering means we are vulnerable to losses in bad weather, and output a head will vary from year to year."

As a result, the emphasis on the all grass unit at Woodburn is on output/ha rather than output a cow. The unit is geared entirely towards sucklers, which makes managing grassland far easier, says Mr Mauchlen. "The grass is managed for a single category of livestock, which makes management simpler and means we do not have to compromise grass use."

Leys are down for about 10 years, and spring grass management starts with nitrogen application in mid to late March, followed by two splits of compound fertiliser in early May and early June, and a further N application in late July. A total of 237kg/ha (190 units/acre) of nitrogen, 46kg/ha (37 units/acre) phosphate and 84kg/ha (67 units/acre) potash is applied to grassland throughout the year.

Cows are moved on to grass after calving on the muir, usually in the third week of April. The period at grass is the only time they have to regain condition, so it is important there is enough grass of a high enough quality to achieve that aim, says Mr Mauchlen.

While outwintering on the muir, cows receive 25kg a day silage and ad lib straw and pot ale syrup, with younger cows and heifers being fed 28kg a day silage, ad lib straw, pot ale syrup and suckler cow blocks. The younger animals are also overwintered in a more sheltered area.

"If the weather is particularly bad, more silage is fed to compensate. The target is to maintain body condition or allow a small loss so cows do not decline during the winter, but at the same time, I do not want them to be over-fat at calving," explains Mr Mauchlen.

The Simmental and Luing cross performs well at Woodburn. The combination of the Luings hill background, longevity, hardiness and Simmental conformation, size and milking ability means cows cope with outwintering, have good mothering ability and produce good calves.

"In summer, while the cows and calves are at grass, the grassland kg/ha liveweight gain is well above target. Here, liveweight gain from birth to weaning is 1.3kg a day for bulls and 1.1kg a day for heifers – Signet target level is 1kg a head a day."

Outwintering is little trouble for the Simmental x Luing cows at Woodburn.

Heifers not selected as replacements are finished at carcass weights of 280-290kg. Bulls are finished at 320-330kg deadweight.


Matthew Mauchlen variable costs (£)

Cow and calf concentrate28.23

Straw and other feed34.61

Grass and forage50.69

Vet and medicine4.90

Bedding-

Others17.42

Total variable costs135.85

Calf sales388.32

Cow subsidy and LFA134.99

Less herd replacement   cost34.19

Total output489.12

Gross margin a cow353.26

Gross margin/ha905.40