15 June 2001

Switch to crimp wheat sees cut in labour costs

By Richard Allison

SWITCHING to crimped wheat and whole-crop cereal silage has allowed one Irish suckler beef producer to raise intakes and cut labour costs.

There is growing interest in crimped wheat with more than 120 Kildare producers including it in beef rations, according to Teagascs Christie Watson. "A large proportion make use of their arable neighbours who have the necessary equipment to produce the crop.

"Last year, some arable producers were harvesting grain 3-4 weeks early at 30% moisture and selling it to livestock producers at £53/t for crimping. Another popular option was to pay arable producers about £70/t to sow, maintain and harvest cereal crops grown on the livestock producers farm."

Gary Armstrong, who farms in Kildare, has switched to crimped wheat and whole-crop cereal rations for finishing Continental cross beef bulls and heifers from his 160-cow spring-calving suckler herd.

"We had a small problem last year with spoilage in crimped wheat because it was being carted from the clamp and tipped up every 2-3 days in a yard near stock. It is unstable when moved, but we had no option as the spare clamp was some distance away."

Whole-crop wheat and triticale are also produced, with triticale used as a break crop within the arable rotation to control take-all. "It is an impressive crop, which is cheap to grow and requires only one application of herbicide. It yielded 12t/acre and the aid payments covered all the growing costs," says Mr Armstrong.

But compared with grass silage, contractor costs are higher at £143/ha (£58/acre) when using a combine with a 4.9m (16ft) header. "With grass silage, greater areas can be cleared in a day and it is heavier and less bulky than whole-crop, requiring fewer trips to the clamp.

"Wheat harvested for crimping yielded well at 5t/acre with a moisture content of 30% and there were no losses of grain, with no volunteer regrowth seen afterwards. The straw is left for 2-3 days and baled, it is surprising how much it dries out when given a little sun."

Each autumn, Mr Armstrong buys in 80-90 bulls from neighbouring farms to finish along with calves from the suckler herd.

"Liveweight gains for these purchased calves average 1.3kg a day, which is good as it includes a weaning and acclimatisation period before being housed.

"Finishing rations contain 5.5kg crimped wheat, 1kg soyabean meal and wheat/triticale whole-crop silage to appetite. Crimped wheat is replaced with rolled barley when supplies are used up, but rolling grain creates dust and takes extra time each day to prepare," he says.

"This extra time is important with the high labour costs in Ireland, particularly this close to Dublin. These costs eat into margins, but crimping wheat helps keep them down.

"High intakes are also crucial in achieving good animal performance. Intakes of 2% body weight are achieved when feeding crimped wheat and whole-crop cereal. In previous years, high quality grass silage and fodder beet were fed, but intakes were never this high.

Mr Armstrong believes that it is the whole ration not just one component which stimulates animal intake.

"Whole-crop cereals and crimped wheat compliment each other well in the ration.

"The next challenge on the horizon is to grow our own protein, so the whole ration is fully traceable. This will also avoid the high costs of soya, as we experienced last year," he adds. &#42

Crimped wheat and whole-crop cereal silage complement each other well in finishing rations for Continental cross beef bulls and heifers.

CRIMPED WHEAT

&#8226 Popular feed.

&#8226 High animal intake.

&#8226 Reduces labour cost.