Finishing more than 90% of bulls at U-grade or better, John Price believes that by maximising his options, he is, in turn maximising efficiency.
He started finishing bulls 10 years ago, but still finishes a percentage of steers and heifers in a bid to make the best use of on-farm resources.
Of 240ha (600 acres) run on various tenancies, 120ha (300 acres) of this land varies from 244m to 366m (800-1200ft) and is included in environmental schemes, with the remainder lower lying, fertile ground suitable for growing arable crops and intensive grass leys.
“When we were eligible for Arable Area Payments, land was historically in arable rotation with bulls finished inside instead of at grass. However, now the most efficient usage of land is suckler cow production,” says Mr Price adding that a number of various marketing options have been exploited to spread risk, including the bull beef system.
Of the 190 spring-calving suckler cows, 80 selected cows are put to a polled Black Limousin or Simmental bull for heifer replacements and 120 Simmental x Limousin go to Charolais bulls, with Mr Price hoping to increase to 200 in 2008. Spring calving is kept tight and takes place between mid February and mid April, with freshly calved cows turned out onto marginal hill land.
On average, of the 100 male calves finished at Llwynberried Farm, 60 are kept entire, Mr Price explains. “Shed space determines how many we keep entire, although some modifications are being planned this year which may allow us to finish more inside.”
Each year, he adjusts the number of steers required for using available grazing efficiently. “We are tied to selling at a specific age and weight when supplying finished bulls and cannot exceed 400kg deadweight at between 14-16 months.
In the 2006 season, 57 were sold to Southern Counties Fresh Foods, Somerset, with three bulls sold for commercial use. Of these, 46 graded U or above, with the remainder falling under the R grade. This year, 49 bulls have been sold, of which 45 classified U- or better.
“We have had consistent carcass grading over the last couple of years, which is why bull beef is so appealing, as you can better predict what return you are going to achieve, reliant on the price at the time.”
And because of the strong market price of finished bulls for export last year, many would be tempted to finish all entire. However, this is something Mr Price is wary to do, particularly in light of the current status of the export market. “We also supply a number of our heifers and steers to Welsh meat marketing company, Celtic Pride.
“Bull beef tends to finish in May, June and July. If everyone goes down the same route, the market will be overloaded and the price differential lost. By adhering to tight spec finishing, we can sell into both added value streams and the export market.”
Daily live weight gain is primarily based on reaching target weight of 650kg at 15 months and a carcass averaging 385kg. Having bought a Charolais bull on the Welsh Beef Quality Improvement Scheme, he is putting more emphasis on breeding values, such as eye muscle and ease of calving.
“We have always used high genetic bulls, however, the scheme gives us the chance to not only buy an eligible bull for the scheme, but to weigh and record weights on a weekly basis,” he adds.
Calves are introduced to creep from mid-July and weaned in separate groups in September, as Mr Price believes housing in September imposes less stress, particularly as there is poorer quality grazing at that time of year. Worming and vaccination also takes place at housing, minimising handling.
Bulls receive a simple mixed ration through a feeder wagon of 50% maize silage, 25% crimped wheat and barley, 25% grass silage and 0.6kg of soya protein on an ad-lib basis.
“We grow and crimp all our own cereals and crimp directly off the combine as we have no storage facility,” he explains. Any surplus grain is sold crimped or rolled to surrounding farmers.
Feeding home-grown grain is one of the benefits of Mr Price’s system, believes SCFF’s senior livestock fieldsman, Jim Hartwright. “If producers are considering finishing bull beef, they have to realise there is no going back. If bulls are to reach potential growth rates they require the best of everything, which is where John has the advantage, particularly as he grows crimped grain.”
“Finished bulls from Llwynberried are ideal for the export market, commanding a higher price. What really makes John a good supplier is the consistent specification he produces.