Careful selection of store cattle is key to quality finishing

Having secured an optimum market for finished beef cattle, Philip Dale of Rackham Farms, Thetford, Norfolk, is now in the process of cutting the numbers of cattle finished by a quarter.

It’s all about tightening up efficiencies and producing to specification, reckons Mr Dale, who runs the 100-cow suckler herd and finishes up to 7000 head of cattle a year for a variety of suppliers.

Having identified that Continental-bred cattle bought in as stores were previously averaging a loss of about 100 a head compared to native sired stock, he has begun concentrating on quality and numbers of Aberdeen Angus-sired cattle finished for Waitrose through Dovecote Park.

“The contract offers a huge amount of security in terms of forward planning and pricing and more importantly the product is in demand.”

Angus-sired stores are sourced from all over the country from known producers as well as local pedigree breeders, because cattle have to be sired by a recorded pedigree sire.

But he does admit he is more selective when purchasing stores.

“We have to buy something with size and frame, about the 450kg mark, which will take the amount of cover our processors require.

When we had larger numbers we could afford to take anything, now we have cut back we have to produce consistent quality.”

An added bonus from buying from known sources is the health status, he explains.

“Poor health can be one of the biggest costs to a finishing system, so reducing pneumonia outbreaks is vital to maintain good performance levels.”

Mr Dale reckons one of the key areas to minimising poor health is to have a handling system which minimises stress, particularly when it comes to weaning from the suckler herd.

“We used to wean in autumn at six months old when calves had to go through separating, worming and vaccination, with a booster vaccine given three weeks later.”

But that was causing too much stress on calves, helping to contribute to disease risks, such as pneumonia.

Now calves come in prior to weaning to be vaccinated and wormed before being returned to their dams.

They are then separated three weeks later for their booster vaccine and are only weaned once all their vaccinations have been given.