More meat – more money
From hoof to hook: The bones of the beef industry have been closely studied by a Kent partnership that sells its stock through a farm shop. The past few years have shown that technology pays off when applied in the field. Rebecca Austin reports
MEAT yield equals money to Brian and Evelyn Frith of Warren Farm, New Romney, Kent. They are more aware of this equation than many fellow livestock producers, as they also run a farm shop selling meat from their farm.
Beef sales are based on their 225 pedigree Herefords. The herd has 80 females which calve in September or from the mid-January to mid-April, ensuring an even supply of meat for the shop.
The Friths have performance recorded the herd with Signets Beefbreeder service since 1979. They are committed to recording, and hence breed suckler cow replacements and bulls by estimated breeding values.
Over the years as the herds average beef value has increased from HE25 (breed average HE21) in 1979 to HE33 (breed average HE25) last year, the Friths have noticed a strong correlation between animals which have high EBVs and high yields of saleable meat (see table).
"There will always be the occasional bull that will throw a spanner in the works but there is a distinct pattern," says Mr Frith.
"What convinced me about EBVs was talking to Bob Frear from Canada, who has 300 cows. He bought four bulls; one of these improved the herds performance, one maintained it and two sired progeny which provided the worst results. The best bull had the highest beef value and the two worst bulls the lowest."
When deciding which heifers to keep or what bull to buy the Friths look for muscle depth and a lean fat score and scan. Growth rates at 200 and 400 days are also important. As a result the herd now averages a daily liveweight gain of 1.1kg to 1.7kg, aiming for 1.4kg a day.
The herd is outwintered. Dry cows are fed straw and a complementary molasses-based urea feed. Once calved they move on to 3kg a day of home mix to weaning. This contains 16% protein, from soya, as well as beet pulp and grass nuts.
Calves are creep fed oats, wheat, barley, soya and grass nuts. Protein content starts at 18% and drops to 16% later. They then move on to a finishing ration at 14% protein, which is offered ad lib, with intakes levelling at 10kg before slaughter.
"If you want to produce quality beef economically the animal must be growing from birth to slaughter," says Mr Frith. "One year we did not creep feed the calves and it was a financial disaster. In hindsight it would have been cheaper to have borrowed the money for the creep than not offer it."
Despite EBVs improving the herds performance, Mr Frith is concerned that Beefbreeder places too much emphasis on an animals backend, rather than its length. "The valuable meat is found in the animals top line, rather than its backend," he explains.
And he believes that producers should consider scanning figures more than visual assessment. But he concedes that he would never buy a bull which had very good performance figures but poor conformation.
Beef value and meat yield
Breeding by beef value has helped the Friths increase meat yield in their pedigree Hereford herd, which is based on 80 breeding cows. Right: Most of the external fat has been bred out of this bulls rib, but the marbling is still there.