Electronic recording equipment is helping a large-scale beef finisher to boost daily liveweight gains, equating to an extra £28,000/year from the herd.
Meilir Jones and his parents David and Esther finish 1,000 cattle a year and aim to improve herd health and feed conversion efficiency to counter tight profit margins.
With support from Farming Connect, they explored options to improve performance and last year invested £30,000 in electronic recording equipment, weigh scales and associated handling facilities.
This system is not only helping the Joneses identify when individual cattle reach their full potential, but it also pinpoints the best-performing cattle and health issues that impede weight gain.
Farming Connect is a Wales-wide service funded by the Rural Development Programme and the Welsh government.
As part of this ongoing series Farmers Weekly will be visiting a different Farming Connect demonstration farm regularly to find out what projects have been undertaken and how performance is benefiting.
Farming Connect is holding an open day at Gop Farm on 9 December, when further information will be given on the EID system and cattle performance. More details online
Feed savings and additional weight gains should allow the business to recoup the capital outlay within two years, says Mr Jones.
“Feed is costing us £1.65 an animal a day. Before we installed the EID we didn’t know when an animal had reached its full potential, so we would have continued to feed it even though the animal wasn’t gaining any weight. In effect we were losing money on that animal.”
Mr Jones, who farms at Gop Farm, a Farming Connect demonstration farm in Flintshire, targets daily liveweight gains of 1.1kg to cover feed costs. EID will help him capture additional growth of 0.1kg a day.
“Across 1,000 animals, that’s £28,000 a year. Margins are very small in the beef industry. It is a numbers game, so we need a good throughput. Small adjustments can make a big difference.”
The Joneses source stores from local markets. Every animal is treated for fluke, worms and pneumonia and given a vitamin drench.
A daily ration of 22kg a head includes waste bread, home-produced silage, ground maize and brewers’ grain. The aim is to finish the animals within four-and-a-half months at weights exceeding 600kg.
Animals are weighed every 20 days, and EID, says Mr Jones, has thrown up some interesting surprises.
“Our oldest shed is our best-performing one – the cattle housed there consistently gain the most weight. We have also been surprised at the breeds that perform the best.”
The system stores a range of data, including the weight of the animal at purchase, daily liveweight gain, date of birth, when the animal was purchased and its purchase price. It also highlights if the animal is farm assured.
“Quite a number of the animals are not farm assured when they come to us. All our buyers need this to be in place, so we know that those animals must be on the farm for 90 days to achieve this. EID helps us keep track of that,” Mr Jones explains.
“That information used to be in boxes in the house, but now it is on a screen right next to the animal. It saves time because we don’t have to look for the information, it is on one computer system where we can keep track of everything. It makes management much easier.’’
The system is linked to the British Cattle Movement Service, reducing paperwork when an animal is sold.
Animal welfare has been improved, too. One of the key areas where EID has helped to improve performance is by helping to identify animals that are lame or in ill health.
“If anything goes lame or is unwell, it shows up straight away because the animal won’t have gained weight,’’ says Mr Jones.
“Lameness can cost us a lot of money when it is not picked up. If an animal is lame for four weeks and losing weight it will have consumed £46 in feed without gaining weight and we would need to spend another £46 to get it back to where it should be.
“With electronic recording we handle the animals more frequently and if there is any lameness, we can treat it straight away,” he says.
Financial rewards of electronic recording
Electronic recording technology offers many financial benefits to beef farmers, helping them to minimise costs and identify inefficiencies in their fattening system.
Kev Bevan, a consultant at SAC Consulting, has been leading a Farming Connect study at Gop Farm to examine the cost benefit of EID for cattle finishing.
He says the correct time to sell a beef animal is when the cost of adding the final kilogramme of weight equals the sale price of that kilogram.
“Up to that point each additional kilogram has a positive, albeit diminishing, margin,” says Mr Bevan.
“EID helps Mr Jones quickly check when animals are close to the best sale date. Getting the timing right feeds straight through to the bottom line.”
Mr Jones also runs a flock of 450 full mouth and 85 pedigree Charollais ewes while his wife Amy runs a livery business on the farm.
He says it is as important for him to know how much money he is losing as the money he is making. EID could help beef farmers build efficiencies into their systems, he adds.
“The dairy industry is ahead of us because performance can be measured from milk output. Until now we haven’t had a process in place – the only way we have been able to measure performance is by looking at the accounts at the end of the year.”