7 March 1997

Heifer market

with a fizz…

A good trade for breeding heifers and achieving good liveweight gain in finishing cattle are helping the McNee family reduce the effects of BSE. Emma Penny reports

THE increasing trade for replacement heifers sourced from BSE-free beef herds has given the McNee family a busy winter at the sales.

Both pedigree Luing and Simmental Luing cross heifers have been sold. The 380-head herd of sucklers at Woodend Farm, Armadale, West Lothian, is a young one, so the family has been able to take advantage of the buoyant market and sell more heifers than they might have done in a more usual year, explains Mr McNee.

"Breeding heifer replacements is the bread and butter on this farm – with steers almost a by-product. We usually keep about 60 heifers as replacements, and finish ones which are not suited for breeding. This year we have sold slightly more heifers than we would usually have done, but fewer culls have been taken out of the herd."

At the latest sale of pedigree Luing heifers at Castle Douglas, the McNees achieved averages of £1060 for in-calf heifers and £748 for bulling heifers. Averages of all the cattle sold were up, a reflection of increased interest and new buyers, he believes.

But profits on the finishing system are looking less rosy, with the beef price down from 210p/kg in the third week of January to 202p/kg in mid-February.

Sell cattle soon

"The cattle have done well over winter and we must sell some within the next fortnight,"says Mr McNee.

"They are coming to their peak and I cant sit on them for another fortnight in the hope of a price rise, or they will become over-fat and be penalised."

The current pressure to produce lighter carcasses has not affected the McNees. They aim to finish bulls at a carcass weight of 320-350kg, heifers at 250-280kg and steers at about 380kg.

Despite the recent fall in maximum intervention weight from 390kg to 340kg, the McNees will continue to produce steers above 340kg deadweight, says Robert.

"Most of our steers are above 340kg right now. We would struggle to finish them at a lower weight – they would be too lean and poorly finished."

All the finishers have achieved liveweight gains of 1kg/day, with bulls achieving 1.2kg/day gain from birth until the last weighing, at 11 months of age. "The bulls were weighed just before Christmas, and again in mid-February. Average gain over that period was 50-60kg, with the star performer putting on 70kg," says Robert.

At housing, all the finishers were offered ad-lib silage, alongside an 18% protein, 12 ME concentrate offered at 1.5kg initially, then gradually stepped up. Now, bulls receive 5kg concentrate, steers 3.5-4kg and heifers 3-4kg/day. "Before Christmas, the bulls were only on 4kg concentrate a day. We want to ensure they have enough appetite to keep eating the concentrate – and silage, which is a vital part of the finishing system."

The McNees can grow good grass, and plenty of it. However, the farm is too wet, too high and too late to grow cereals so all concentrate feed is bought in, and to keep costs to a minimum silage is the cornerstone of rations.

Space is at a premium at Woodend Farm after weaning one batch of calves and the start of spring calving.


WINTER AT WOODEND


&#8226 Finishers putting on 1kg/day.

&#8226 More breeding heifers sold.

&#8226 Planning for calving and bulling.