23 October 1998

Silage programme is levy money well spent – Hants man

About 200 beef producers

applied for MLCs free silage

rationing programme in the

first few weeks of its

release. Simon Wragg

visited one Hants producer

to see how it is used in

practice

WITH beef margins under pressure and winter housing approaching, the launch of the MLCs silage rationing programmes has been timely.

Aimed at helping producers balance silage rations to ensure cost-effective finishing, the programme was developed using levy payers money by the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland at Hillsborough.

Hants beef producer Jack Parsons, of Fourjays Farm, Romsey, was the first to receive the programme and despite initial technical difficulties found the rations accurate and says it was levy-payers money well spent: "The only real complaint is it runs on a spreadsheet programme thats not on the farm computer."

In addition to a busy contracting business and 162ha (400 acre) home farm, Mr Parsons keeps 90 steers, mainly Simmental, Belgian Blue, Charolais or Limousin crosses from two-months-old through to finishing at 23 months. Two beef premiums are claimed on each beast. Unusually for a silage-based system, cattle are housed all year round.

"Steers are fed a mix of grass and maize silage, and straw ad-lib. Young calves get 0.5kg/head/day concentrate split into two feeds. From six month old, theyre given 0.25kg/head/day of a home mix of concentrate, peas, oats and minerals costing £85/t. From 14 months old theyll also recieve potatoes, apples, fodder beet – whatevers available," he explains.

His annual requirement of grass silage is 700t, achieved from three cuts taken off 16.2ha (40 acres) and 6.9ha (17 acres) of maize. Any split hay or silage bales unfit for sale are also fed.

Supplementary feed for finishers is determined by availability, but most importantly, it is low cost. The system is designed to be a one-man operation and provides a welcome diversion from contracting duties, says Mr Parsons.

Steers finish at 640kg to 660kg liveweight, kill out at 54% and achieve carcass grades of R4L and R4H, however, an occasional O and U is inevitable, admits Mr Parsons. Daily liveweight gains average 0.7kg in younger steers and 0.9kg in finishers.

Mr Parsons costs suggest the beef enterprise is achieving a 18p/kg liveweight margin at £1.58/kg deadweight before accounting for any return on capital invested "I know how beef enterprise is performing, but Im interested to see just how far out we are according to the MLC silage programme," he adds.

Signets Ian Ross runs the programme from a laptop, entering the ration details and beef unit costings from Mr Parsons. The second limitation of the programme is dry matter, allowing producers to enter up to 35% DM, whereas silage at Fourjays is unusually dry at 42% DM.

On a typical five-month winter for steers beginning housing at 400kg liveweight and finishing at 540kg liveweight on Mr Parsons current ration, but at a slightly higher concentrate level of 0.5kg/head/day, steers achieve daily liveweight gains of 0.91kg. The programme shows a margin over purchased feed (MOPF) of 14p/kg deadweight or £45/head at these feed rates.

Accounting for a higher dry matter silage, MOPF creeps up to 17.5p/kg or £56/head. Using lifetime figures, the programme indicates a likely MOPF of £186/head to which beef premium claims – including extensification bonuses – can be added. "Thats not too different from our own figures," says Mr Parsons.

"At least we know were on the right track," says Mr Parsons while studying the programmes predictions. "We also have regular silage analyses as we move through the clamp – a small price to pay to take account of the variation in silage quality and its effect on feeding out."

Mr Ross is also impressed: "The programme is giving reasonable predictions, including silage use which is the missing link for many beef rationing programme. It should help producers to plan silage use, instead of feeding too much cake and ending up with half a clamp of silage left at the end of winter."

For producers with sucklers and finishers facing a winter with limited silage stocks, Mr Ross suggests the programme could be invaluable in prioritising where silage is fed and used to greatest effect, he adds.

Mr Parsons is keen to see whether the programme would predict maize silage use, but Mr Ross says it couldnt process the data into meaningful information, as he explains: "The programme has been developed using grass silage intake and utilisation data – which is different to that for maize."

Data on feed intake for maize is available in France, suggests Mr Ross, and as a producer Mr Parsons would like to see MLC develop a second silage programme for beef finishers looking at maize silage. According to MLC beef scientist Duncan Pullar it would be a good idea, but currently theree too little information on feeding maize silage to beef cattle.

SILAGE BEEF PROGRAMME

&#8226 Copies of the programme can be obtained from Lindsey Tapp or Carole Game at the MLC(01908-844271), or e-mail lindsey-tapp@mlc.org.uk

Silage analysis

Dry Matter 42%

Crude protein 15%

ME MJ/kg DM 10.5

D-valve 67

Ammonia 4%

Cost/t freshweight £14/t

Beef unit costings 1997 (£)

Sales (50 steers)

at £567/head 28,350

Beef premium,

extensification, area aid

on maize area 8500

Total income 36,850

Calf purchase costs

50 calves at £200 10,000

Labour costs (2hrs/day) 3650

Machinery costs 400

Rent 55 acres forage

area at £100/acre 5500

Contracting charges 5500

Seed, fertiliser,

silage additive 3700

Cake, oats, peas,

minerals, salt 1000

Water 500

Straw (750 bales) 3000

Administration @ £1/day 365

Total expenses 33,615

Profit 3235 (18p/kg)