Matching breed to grazing can boost profits
A major five-year trial,
announced at a Bronydd
Mawr open day, will try to
improve the profitability of
upland beef production by
matching cattle type to
Robert Davies reports
RELATING breed type to different grazing conditions should help producers use their resources to meet market demands.
That is the aim of new MAFF-funded work, based on the premise that quality beef produced under natural conditions in the uplands will be very saleable in the wake of the BSE crisis, but profits depend on using the right cattle and managing them well.
On many units this will mean efficiently exploiting both semi-natural rough grazings and improved pastures, and marketing cattle in optimum condition at under 30 months old – something that can be difficult when traditional hardy hill breeds are used. Some Continental cross-cattle can also perform below par when utilising unimproved grazings.
"This trial will attempt to optimise production efficiency by relating breed type to different grazing conditions," said Iain Wright, cattle research director at MLURI, the Scotland-based land use research institute.
Dr Wright announced the new study during an open day at Bronydd Mawr, the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Researchs upland facility in Powys, where 240 spring and autumn-born cattle will be finished during the trial. The performance of Welsh Blacks and Charolais and Limousin crosses grazing different combinations of improved and unimproved grazings will be compared.
Cattle will be slaughtered with the optimum level of finish and a full economic appraisal of the finishing period made. Meat from representative carcasses will also be analysed at Bristol University as part of a larger study of the manipulation of beef saturated fatty acid levels.
"We have no preconceived ideas about the right type of cattle for producing high quality healthy beef on different upland grazings. The trial, which is also being supported by the Scottish Office and MLC, should provide producers with guidance on how best to use their resources to meet market demand."
Dr Wright said there was scope for improving the average grazing management of all beef cattle. This made sense because grass was the cheapest feed available and tight margins meant input costs must be reduced. Consumers also regarded grass based systems as the natural way of producing safe beef.
He urged producers to exploit trial evidence about maintaining optimum sward height. When suckler cows grazed an 8cm (3.1in) high sward they gained 0.5kg a day and their calves 1.16kg/head/day. On a 4cm (1.6in) high sward the comparative figures were a 0.04kg/day loss in cow weight and a 0.9kg/day increase in calf weight.
A more flexible pattern of closures for silage would allow target sward heights to be maintained. The result would be fitter cows and higher weaning weights, reducing the need for creep feeding.