19 November 1999

Performance centre open to first intake

By Robin Cradock

BEEF bull testing broke new ground this month with the first intake at Lim Test UKs performance centre in North Yorks.

The centre claims to be the first in the UK to scientifically study food-to-flesh conversion ratio, and will monitor how much it costs for each kilo of liveweight gain, using a Grainbeet diet costing £35/t.

Liveweight gain should be a key selection criteria when buying bulls, believes centre owner Richard Bradley. In a pilot trial using five bulls from his own Bradway herd, he found that the best bull achieved a daily liveweight gain of 2.22kg, giving a cost a kg liveweight gain of 40.5p, while the most costly was 60p/kg.

This was on a diet of 30kg of Grainbeet a head a day, and equates to a saving of £60 to put on 300kg liveweight, he says.

The centre, built on a greenfield site 180m (600ft) up in the Pennines at Fingall, Leyburn, North Yorks, has received £50,000 of MAFF and EU funding under the Objective 5b farm diversification scheme and another £20,000 from the British Limousin Cattle Society.

The buildings can hold 40 bulls, with each pen holding a maximum of four bulls. On arrival each is fitted with an ear transponder which registers when the animal feeds, while weigh-stations at each pen can measure feed intake to within 0.1kg.

Mr Bradleys farm runs to 58ha (138 acres) and a further 30ha (74 acres) is rented. Up to now, main enterprises have been pigs and poultry, and while the 30,000 bird broiler unit is being kept, the last pigs are being sold. He also has a 40-cow pedigree Limousin herd.

The first batch of 27 bulls come from nine different pedigree breeders. Bulls are between 270 and 330 days old, and after a three-week settling in period, will start the official test period of 16 weeks

After a further three weeks they will be sold at auction at the centre, with the first sale scheduled for Apr 15. A second batch of bulls is due to arrive in January.

Selling from the centre means the health status of bulls will be maintained. All data is recorded and will be available both in printed form and on the LimTest website on the Internet.

Mr Bradley is drawing on his experience in pigs in going into this diversification. "A pig breeder buys his boars by using performance figures. Traditionally cattle breeders have bought on eye, and only then referred to BLUP figures and EBVs. By measuring feed intake and comparing that to growth rate the breeder will be able to improve his margin.

"Feed conversion efficiency is highly heritable. To a beef finisher this means better margins because less feed is used to produce the same weight of animal. It should also appeal to dairy farmers looking for a crossing sire."

Jim Bloom, Lim Test UKs advisory board chairman, has submitted four bulls from his Scorboro herd near Driffield. He believes that beef producers will have to take a more commercial attitude to selection of their breeding stock.

"That is not to say bull buyers should ignore visual assessment, but they must take more account of performance figures, particularly feed conversion rates." &#42

BULL TESTING

&#8226 Bulls now being tested.

&#8226 Liveweight gain recorded.

&#8226 Feed conversion efficiency.