8 August 1997

How Hants unit changed to cope with BSE legacy

Keen to restructure your beef business to cope with changed market conditions? Then this new series could prove useful. To kick off, Jonathan Riley finds out what one Hants producer to offset lower beef prices

Keen to restructure your beef business to cope with changed market conditions? Then this new series could prove useful. To kick off, Jonathan Riley finds out what one Hants producer to offset lower beef prices

GROSS margins achieved after the BSE crisis began meant the previous set-up at David and Tina Pybuss 27ha (78-acre) Pysmead Farm could not cover overheads and finance borrowings.

A 10ha (25-acre) grazing area, 9ha (22 acres) of silage and 7.5 ha (18 acres) of maize supported 80 dairy bred Angus and Continental heifers and steers which were reared from calves, grazed and then finished out of yards at 18 months.

Angus cattle were marketed through a scheme which demands that the name of the Angus sire used is known and that carcasses are between 230-360kg before paying a premium for the carcass.

"We were already in the process of switching to all dairy bred Angus production and so when prices were hit by BSE this added impetus to the switch and 1996 saw the Continental steers and heifers cut out altogether.

"Finishing the Continentals quickly required a high energy density diet. The high weights of the Continentals meant that land was heavily stocked and winter housing requirements high," says Mr Pybus.

To add weight to marketing in 1996 Mr Pybus joined quality assurance scheme FABBL and producer group Wessex Quality Meats. Its procurement officer buys animals off the field which reduces marketing costs.

Mr Pybus then took the opportunity to rent an extra 30ha (70 acres). Extra grazing allowed him to finish cattle at 23 months off grass rather than out of buildings at 18 months.

"Steers will be finished on the extra rented ground and sold off before a second winter housing period is needed. Once the finished steers are sold, the younger animals will be moved from Pysmead up to the rented buildings where they will be fed a store ration to achieve growth rates of only 0.5kg for their second winter. More Angus calves will be bought in to Pysmead."

As the first batch through on the more extensive system approach finishing in mid August he will weigh stock and possibly begin feeding concentrates with the aim of selling all of the steers before rehousing.

Because the extra grass is on light ground it allowed Mr Pybus to keep stock out until December and turnout in March, reducing winter housing by six weeks. This allowed concentrates to be reduced while still achieving growth rates of over 1kg/day.

To make further savings, maize was not drilled this year. Instead the ground was used for flax which attracts £494/ha (£200/acre) in subsidies.

provides some back-up if beef prices are affected in the future, he adds.

David Pybus (right) and Signets Ian Ross…changes have boosted grass margins.