20 September 1996

Strategy is put on hold for sucklers

Our Winter Feed Dilemma series examines how to contain rising feed costs and cope with the prospect of extra stock on farm this winter. Sue Rider kicks off

WINTER feed planning is being delayed on one Bucks suckler unit due to marketing uncertainties.

Elizabeth King, who runs 50 mainly Simmental x Friesian sucklers in the Chilterns, would usually sell her spring-born suckled calves at weaning in October. But this autumn, given the depressed outlook for prices, its a case of judging the market, and if necessary, retaining stock until the spring.

"Until weve made that decision we cant afford to tuck into the silage," says Mrs King.

Her 30 spring-calving cows have been receiving barley straw and a urea-based liquid supplement since early August because grazing at her 42ha (105-acre) Grymsdyke Farm, Lacey Green, Princes Risborough has been so short. Their mainly Belgian Blue cross calves have also been offered creep all summer.

The liquid supplement is contributing to the cows protein requirements, but the shortage of grass, compounded by a high stocking rate, means theyre now eating 9kg a head a day of straw.

Mrs Kings ADAS consultant Elwyn Rees suggests that to stop the cows loosing condition, it could pay to wean the calves in the next week – one month early.

"This will reduce the energy demand of the cow by 30% and, provided the calf is five to six months of age, it will pay to feed the calf directly rather than feed the cow to produce milk for it."

Cows could then get by on the anticipated autumn flush of grass, straw, and a small amount of the liquid supplement. Calves would be weaned onto grass and be offered a 16% protein supplement.

Mrs King will try to sell the steers this autumn, once she has claimed subsidy on them. Heifers, likely to be more difficult to sell, could be stored over the winter.

Dr Rees suggests these January-born heifer calves could be sold next spring for bulling that summer. And he figures it will be more profitable for animals with the potential to finish this winter, to be finished on farm as opposed to selling as stores this autumn.

Mrs King is keen to devise a feeding plan as soon as possible but realises it will be at least another month until she can work out how many extra cattle shell have to keep. "When we do draw up a feed plan it will be essential to prioritise stock requirements," says Dr Rees. "Scare silage supplies will be retained for the 20 autumn calvers and for when the spring calvers start calving in January. Extra animals that are being kept this winter, rather than put on the market, will have to be fed straw plus a high energy and protein supplement.

&#8226 Draw up feed plan prioritising stock needs.

&#8226 Save silage for autumn and spring calvers.

&#8226 High energy and protein supplement plus straw to stock retained on farm this winter.


ADAS senior consultant Elwyn Rees:"Extra cattle kept at Grymsdyke this winter will be fed straw plus a high energy and protein supplement."