Quality key to Welsh beef future

Premium prices are the best way to make a future in beef production, according to John Homfray, who finishes 340 cattle a year at Cowbridge in Glamorgan.

Selling high-quality product also helps justify the 1863t of greenhouse gases produced annually on the Penllyn Estate by up to 1000 cattle, 400 ewes and their lambs.

The mixed unit was the venue for the Welsh launch of the CLA’s carbon accounting calculator by Derek Holliday, the association’s head of environment.

He explained that Mr Homfray had used the free web-based Carbon Accounting for Land Managers (CALM) program to calculate that the balance between carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane emissions and carbon sequestration by soils and trees.

Mr Homfray also explained he had a local authority contract to compost green waste like hedge cuttings. The finished material had 51% DM and each ton spread on arable land supplied 16.67 units of N, 17.4 units of K and 6.23 units of P.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would mean applying flexible thinking about breeding, feeding and marketing. Marchigiana cattle were introduced by his late father Frank in the early 1980s to produce young bulls for sale to France, where in 1984 a 650kg animal realised about £850.

“BSE destroyed that market, so we started changing to target the direct deals being offered. Now we have 400 mainly Marchigiana xSimmentals, which are large, lean cows that ideally complementAberdeen Angus bulls.”

The estate also carried 20 Angus and 20 Welsh Black cows bred pure. Two-thirds of cows calve down in March and April and the rest in July and August.

Cattle manager Andrew Shackell said steers were finished at about 660kg and heifers about 100kg lighter.

After housing last August, they were fed 25.5kg/head/day fresh weight of a total mixed ration that included 12kg of maize silage, 5kg of grass silage, 3kg each of rolled barley and crimped wheat and 1.5kg of a 40% protein blend.

“The daily dry weight fed was 11.25kg/head and they put on between 1.5 and 1.75kg/day. More than 80% of them were sold by Christmas, with 80% going to Waitrose and the rest to Marks and Spencer.”

Mr Shackell said introducing a mixer wagon six months ago had proved a big success, as it reduced waste and improved performance.

It is also used to make a dry cow ration. The 34.5kg fresh weight fed/cow/day (10.67kg DW) contains 24kg of fairly poor grass silage, 1kg of crimped wheat, 3kg of wheat straw, 1kg of rapeseed meal and 5kgs of pressed citrus pulp, plus minerals.”

“Our breeding policy is driven by market demand. In recent years the emphasis has been on quality, taste and traceability and Angus bulls on our Marchigiana-based cows give us all we want along with market credibility.”

“At present it seems we should maintain our suckler herd at between 300 and 400 head as long as we can satisfy the needs of premium customers at fair prices.

“The worry is obviously the stability of the single farm payment, which accounts for around 20% of the farm’s income. We feel that if we cannot make a success of quality beef farming others should be having the same or worse difficulties.”

* CLA Carbon Calculator can help farmers in greenhouse gas battle

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