1 March 2002

Keeping feeding system simple does business…

A simple feeding system,

nutritionally matched to

the breed and condition of

an Oxon suckler herd, is

ensuring easy calving and

efficient feed use.

Hannah Velten reports

PETER Brown describes his previous system of out-wintering 110 Hereford x Friesian cows, calving from March to May at Park Farm, Middleton Stoney, Oxon, as inefficient and labour intensive.

"All cows are put to a Charolais bull, so there is the potential for large calves. They were fed a maintenance ration of ad-lib big bale silage in ring feeders.

"This was fine for March calvers, but as grass grew there was no way to control feed intakes during the last six weeks of pregnancy, so April and May-born calves became too big, causing many calving problems."

Last year, new housing with room for 300 cattle – including stores and finishers – was built. "Feeding cows indoors allows control over feed intakes throughout winter and up to calving, so no calving problems occur. Cow and calf are turned out from March onwards, 2-3 days post-calving."

At housing, cows are condition scored and divided into two groups of 44 animals, based on age and body condition. "Cows usually receive 15kg of grass silage/head/day with 8kg of straw. Thinner and younger cattle are offered more silage. This ensures second calvers are at a condition score of 2.5-3 at calving."

"But last year there wasnt enough silage made to feed a full ration to sucklers this winter," says Mr Brown. "Priority is given to finishers and stores."

After analysing silage, a balanced ration was made up for cows to include cereals produced on the farms 303ha (750 acres) of arable land. Cows are being fed a flat-rate ration of 4kg silage, 1kg rapeseed meal, 1kg rolled wheat, 1kg maize gluten and ad-lib straw.

The ration is fed through a diet feeder, with silage and straights mixed and delivered to cows first. Cows take about 30 minutes to eat this after which chopped straw is put out for the day.

MLC beef scientist Duncan Pullar suggests Park Farm could cut silage from the ration. "The energy and protein content of silage could be replaced in a cheaper ration of 1.5kg maize gluten or rapeseed meal, minerals and ad-lib straw."

Mr Brown agrees that silage could well disappear from suckler cow rations in future, but with greater reliance on home-grown, cost-efficient cereals.

Cows are generally kept in the herd until after their seventh or eighth calf. But after pregnancy testing, about 7% of the herd are empty and those with no milk, overly thin or slack udders are also culled.

Between 20 and 25 replacement Hereford x Friesian heifers are bought in each year from a single source. Mr Brown was using Aberdeen Angus x Friesian heifers, but he is now unable to source them.

Heifer replacements are kept as a separate group so they do not have to compete for food, says Mr Brown. "Heifers are in-calf to Limousin when they arrive and are out-wintered.

"In March, fat cattle are sold at 22 months and heifers take their place in the building. They are offered more feed to match their growth requirements. They are more likely to conceive after calving because they are kept separate and do not have to compete for feed."

Park Farm is a dry farm, over stone brash, which can cause shortage of grass in June and July on the 100ha (250 acres) of parkland grazing. "When cows are lactating and supposed to be recovering body condition before mating, lack of grass could result in barren cows," says Dr Pullar.

But Mr Browns heifer replacements, the most at risk, are all calved in early March, giving them extra time to regain condition before Charolais bulls are put out in June.

&#8226 Match feed to cow type.

&#8226 Condition scoring essential.

&#8226 House heifers seperately.

Condition scoring cows at housing and dividing them into two groups allows feed supply to be matched to cow type and age, say Peter Brown(inset left) and Duncan Pullar (right).