22 November 1996

Strain on feed and housing as poorer calves go unsold

By Jonathan Riley

A HIGHER proportion of poor quality calves remain unsold this year, adding pressure to winter housing and feed stocks.

According to Northumberland-based auctioneer Scott Donaldson, the early suckled calf sales highlighted a larger price gap between poor and good quality calves than normal.

"Good quality bullocks achieved 115p/kg compared with 90p/kg for poorer calves at the start of the selling season," says Mr Donaldson.

"Including smaller calves in otherwise even batches of calves reduced the price for the whole batch by a greater margin than in previous years," he says.

This has led some producers to keep smaller calves or to withdraw them from sale at auctions.

Perth-based Signet consultant Alan Mathieson suggests it would be better to sell these calves as singles than add them to batches of larger calves, or to finish them on a cereal-based ration, as that would help to maximise the animals conformation potential.

"Where the calf was late born or did not receive as much milk – for example, because its mother had mastitis – it has the potential to finish well on an intensive cereal system," he says.

"Cereal prices are comparatively low this year and by feeding a cereal-based diet, growth rates of 1.4kg a day for steers and 1.2kg a day for heifers can be achieved.

"This minimises days to finish and avoids turning extra cattle out to grass next spring," says Mr Mathieson.

He recommends feeding concentrate ad lib from hoppers, which reduces waste, and ensuring that at least 1kg of straw a head a day is available to supply sufficient roughage and avoid any digestive upsets.

To cut production costs further, Mr Mathieson suggests formulating a diet with potatoes at a ratio of 4.5 parts potatoes to 1 part barley for a 15 to 16% crude protein ration.

"Drier dung is produced on a barley system than on a silage system, which helps to reduce bedding requirements. And keeping steers over 10 months old will attract the £90 BSP payment," says Mr Mathieson.

But he warned that trying to finish calves which are small due to ill health could be a waste of feed, and that these poorer calves should be sold at the first opportunity. &#42


FINISHING CALVES


&#8226 Sell poorer calves singly.

&#8226 Finish on cereal-based ration.

&#8226 Sell steers after 10 months to collect beef special premium.