18 January 2002

Switch to mixed ration brings heavier weights

By Wendy Owen North-east correspondent

SWITCHING from a grass silage and barley-based beef feeding system to a mixed ration, including whole-crop pea silage and straw, has brought a number of advantages on a farm in the Scottish borders.

Guy Lee, of Sandystones, Jedburgh, has nothing but praise for the new system. He says the main benefit of mixed rations is that Abderdeen Angus-sired progeny from his Angus and South Devon suckler herd can now be taken to heavier weights.

He also reckons there has been a distinct improvement in carcass quality and that growth rates have gone up by 10-15% since he bought the complete diet-feeder last September.

"I had been looking for some time at making changes to the ration, but wasnt sure whether I could justify the investment with just 110 cows.

"It will take about five years before the investment in the machine has been paid off through improved performance and reduced labour. But I expect the feeder wagon to last much longer than that."

On the old system, steers weighed an average 370kg deadweight at 12 months old. They now achieve 415kg at the same age and have obtained better grades. Heifers on the mixed ration are 10% heavier at 310-340kg deadweight and significantly more have achieved a 4L grading.

The mixed ration, which is fed right across the herd from cows to finishers, is based on grass silage, with whole-crop pea silage, straw, barley, home-produced sodawheat, rapemeal and minerals added in varying quantities.

Arable rotation

Flexibility is the key to the system, however, and ingredients may vary from year to year to fit with the arable rotation. Crop prices also have a bearing on the proportion of home-produced feeds that go into the ration.

The new feeding regime is much less labour intensive than the previous silage and barley system, where the animals used to be fed twice daily.

"There were many buckets and bags of food being carried about and it was heavy work that took one man several hours. Now everything is done by machine and it is only half a mornings job for one man to feed and bed down about 250 animals. In the evening, food is simply pushed up to the barrier," says Mr Lee.

Feeding a mixed ration has also allowed the farm to increase stocking rates in the buildings. "Numbers were restricted to feeding space available at any one time. Now cattle are fed ad-lib, this problem has disappeared and I think there is less stress because cattle do not have to fight for feeding space. Im sure this has contributed towards increased growth rates.

"Stock are more content, spending more time lying down and cudding, with food available to them all day. Intakes are higher and I believe animals are in better health because their bodies are getting the minerals they need throughout the day."

Feeding a mixed ration means it is much easier to judge how much profit the herd is making.

Market value

"It was quite difficult to estimate how much silage was going to each group before. With feed weighed into the wagon, it can be costed effectively," he says.

"The cow mix costs 60p/head/day, but it can cost up to £1/day for finishers, depending on what value I put on home-made silage. I tend to judge all home-produced feeds by market value, rather than by how much it costs to grow them."

Mr Lee is the co-ordinator of the Waitrose Aberdeen Angus beef scheme and animals from Sandystones are sent to a dedicated abattoir in Pontefract, West Yorks. From there, they are sold to the public at a premium price on the service counter of the supermarket, where trained butchers tailor cuts of beef to individual requirements. &#42

&#8226 Heavier finished cattle.

&#8226 Better grades achieved.

&#8226 Less labour-intensive.

&#8226 Cattle more content.


Steers finished at 12 months weigh 45kg deadweight more than on a barley beef ration, says Guy Lee.