28 February 1997

Tighter calving pattern makes em easier to feed

A tighter calving period, sticking with bull beef and keeping cows out for longer after weaning have helped our Herefordshire producer manage the impact of BSE. Emma Penny reports

TIGHTER calving has helped Herefordshire farm manager Stuart Hutchings produce store and finishing animals which are more uniform and easier to manage.

The policy was instigated in summer 1995, when the Charolais bulls were removed earlier. Now, Mr Hutchings, who manages the 210-cow spring calving herd at Gatley Farms, Leinthall Earls, Leominster, aims for a 12-week calving period. That means the 1996-born calves, weaned in Oct-ober, are a more uniform group, which will aid selling, he believes.

"The tighter calving period has made a big difference with the heifers. They all fall within a much tighter size range, and that makes it easier to feed them. Protein is a vital part of their ration, as I want heifers to put on as much skeleton and muscle as possible – the store market wants animals which look like they can grow and finish."

The tighter calving period will also aid bull finishing – Mr Hutchings hopes to have all bulls off the farm by the end of July, with no tail-enders.

Despite the loss of export markets, male calves at Gatley Farms will continue to be left entire and finished on a silage-based system. "Bulls finish more quickly and at better carcass grades than steers – there is no contest when it comes to liveweight gain."

Last years bulls were finished at an average liveweight of 660kg, killing out to a deadweight average of 370kg. "Last year I sold the bulls through several outlets, and I am hoping to find one to take these heavier bulls again this year."

Mr Hutchings admits that finding a market for heavier bulls may be tricky, given the current demand for lighter carcasses, but he says that on the silage-based system, bulls do not finish at target fat class 3L or more until they reach the heavier weights.

"I have not faced a penalty on heavier bulls yet, but I am not dogmatic about it – if the market wants lighter bulls then I will consider that."

The bulls are currently on a ration on 15-20kg 35% dry matter maize silage, 2.75kg barley, 1.5kg maize gluten, 0.5kg SoyPro and 100g urea, aiming for a liveweight gain of 1.5kg a day. "When the calves were weaned they were housed and fed grass silage alongside 1kg barley and 1kg maize gluten a head a day. Our maize was not ready to harvest until early November, so calves were introduced slowly to maize silage in mid-November."

The heifers are on 19kg maize silage, 0.5kg maize gluten, 0.25kg SoyPro and 100g urea, aiming for a liveweight gain of 0.9kg a day – without laying down fat.

Maize silage has also just been introduced to the cows, who are receiving 10kg a head a day in the run up to calving. That is to ensure they have enough energy to grow the foetus and for quality colostrum.

This year, the cows were in good condition at housing, having been left out at grass with ad lib oat straw for a month after weaning. "The cows put on condition at grass, coming in at condition score three, and the extra month at grass saved on feed costs."

Once housed, the cows received ad lib barley or oat straw, 2kg maize gluten and 50g minerals. &#42

Stuart Hutchings is offering his heifers a maize-based diet, aiming for a liveweight gain of 0.8kg a day without them laying down fat.


MANAGING BEEF


&#8226 Tighter calving period.

&#8226 Male calves left entire.

&#8226 Cows left at grass for longer.


Gross margins: Finishers at Gately Farms

1995 (£)1996 (£)

Sale of bulls97,01882,333

Sale of heifers45,72841,145

Bull premium(BSPS)10,67115,941

Total output154,384139,420

Less livestock transfers and purchases75,15071,294

Gross output79,23468,126

Concentrates16,37818,793

Forage7,3346,495

Vet and med3,7053,167

Sundries8881,151

Haulage/commission/

levy3,1774,495

Variable costs31,48234,001

Gross margin47,75234,125

Gross margin a head215155

*Calves weaned at seven months. Bulls finished at 15 months, while half heifers sold as stores at 12 months old, and rest finished at 18 months.