14 January 2000

Waste veg offers good scope for cattle finishers

Deep in East Anglian

vegetable country,

James Garner looks at how

waste from veg processors

is put to good use on a

cattle finishing unit

SUPERMARKET desire for consistency in shape and size of their vegetables means there is a lot of available waste for opportunist cattle finishers.

On one Norfolk finishing unit, vegetables are the mainstay of the ration and two things have turned in the beef enterprises favour – potatoes are less expensive and beef prices have lifted.

To the relief of herd owner Paul Rackham, who farms at Manor Farm Estate, Bridgham, Thetford, cattle are now holding their own. But he wastes no time in pointing out that in the three previous years they have lost money.

With waste disposal his main business concern, Mr Rackham says he is lucky that beef finishing is not his livelihood, but nonetheless the 1000 head finishing unit is run professionally and efficiently.

Cattle have a set diet that varies little. One tonne of feed contains 780kg of chopped vegetable waste, 200kg of brewers grains and 20kg of sugar beet nuts with minerals and is mixed in a feeder wagon.

The diet can vary during the year depending on vegetable supply, but its average ME is 12.5, with a protein of 15-16% and a dry matter content of about 35%. Cattle are fed twice daily and are offered ad-lib silage or straw, with the total diet costing £1 a beast a day.

Bigger cattle, which are bought between 350-450kg, take about 12 weeks to finish while smaller weanlings can be inside for up to nine months. But time taken to finish depends on the type of beast, he says.

"Better types of big-framed cattle which are ready to move on to good quality grub will grow at 2kg a day." On average, most cattle grow at 1-2kg a day.

Feeding large quantities of vegetable waste – 40t a day in total – means a regular supply is needed. But this is rarely a problem, as the unit is such a big buyer of it that supply is fairly continuous, says Mr Rackham.

"We try to stick consistently to a diet, although it can vary depending on the vegetable season. I do not like chopping and changing rations, as this puts cattle off their feed, and it takes a week or so to get them back on to it."

For this reason, cattle are fed mainly potatoes and parsnips because these have better feed values. Occasionally the diet includes carrots when other veg is in short supply, but Mr Rackham says their feed value is not as good, and he prefers to feed these outside to his 250-cow pedigree Red Poll herd.

Traditional problems of feeding roots, such as cattle choking, have to be overcome. "I think it is important to chop roots. We put them through a root conditioner, which lessens the risk of choking on potatoes and cattle also seem to use them more effectively."

FEEDING ROOTS

&#8226 Chop roots where possible.

&#8226 Consistent diet.

&#8226 Low in dry matter.