23 August 1996

How Norfolk beef enterprise gets its strategy on song

Condition of autumn calvers must be managed carefully to reduce calving difficulties and maintain fertility. Jonathan Riley reports

HIGH stocking rates to produce lean suckler cows at calving and plenty of silage for milk production for autumn born calves. That is the strategy of Richard Waddingham who farms 225ha (555 acres) at Melton Constable, Norfolk.

His beef enterprise occupies only 29ha (70 acres) which is split into 17ha (42 acres) of permanent pasture and 12ha (30 acres) of two-year leys for silage included in the arable rotation. The pasture supports 60 Hereford x Friesian cows, put to a Simmental bull, and heifers put to a Limousin. Progeny are sold as suckled calves in May.

"Cows are split into three groups according to expected calving dates and stocking rates raised to 2.5t/ha as cows approach calving," says Mr Waddingham.

"We push cows hard pre-calving to cut condition. When dams get fat, the unborn calf has less room to manoeuvre into the correct presentation position which increases calving difficulties."

Immediately before calving, cows are moved to a paddock next to the farm-house so that they can be checked through the night and to further restrict grass intake.

Straw is provided and supplemented with molasses containing high magnesium. The molasses is designed to offset the bitterness of the magnesium.

After calving cows are stocked at about 1.6t/ha (0.7t/acre).

Cows are outwintered on beet tops and have 24-hour access to a high quality silage with over 11.5MJ/kg DM ME and a D value over 70. The feed face regulated by tombstone barriers which are pushed up by 15cm (6in) a day.

Mr Waddingham also creep fed calves last spring at a cost of £36 a head. This resulted in better finished calves of higher weights that achieved £50 a head more for the extra weight in May this year than 12 months earlier.

SIGNET consultant Geoff Fish says the key to maintaining high stocking rates of 2t/ha (0.8/acre) is the division of large fields into paddocks or strips using electric fencing. "This confines the cows and less grass is trampled," he says. "Grass is also taken right down which improves tillering."

Cows coming off grass to calve can be overfat causing calving difficulties and in the final month to two months of pregnancy, stock must be kept on the poorest fields. However, Mr Fish says, for the three months post-calving, it is vital to ensure cows gain condition and are on a rising plane of nutrition when they meet the bull to maintain fertility.

"It is this that contributes to the average autumn calving herd having 5% fewer calves reared. So sufficient concentrates should be fed to get condition to about 3.5 in mid winter at service. Calf mortality is also higher because calves are younger when housed," says Mr Fish.

He advises that well-ventilated housing is necessary to cut respiratory diseases and thoroughly cleaned to reduce calves exposure to diseases such as salmonella.

MANAGEMENT POINTERS

&#8226 Keep stock on poorest fields two months before calving

&#8226 For three months post-calving ensure cows gain condition and are on a rising plane of nutrition when they meet the bull to maintain fertility

&#8226 Aim to feed for condition score 3.5 in mid winter at service


&#8226 Keep stock on poorest fields two months before calving.

&#8226 For three months post-calving ensure cows gain condition and are on a rising plane of nutrition.

&#8226 Aim to feed for condition score 3.5 in mid-winter at service.

Immediately before calving Richard Waddingham (inset) moves cows to a paddock next to the farmhouse so he can check them more easily at night and further reduce their grass intakes. The Hereford x Friesian cows have access to straw supplemented with high magnesium molasses.