Farmers Weekly Awards 2018: Beef Farmer of the Year

Lincolnshire beef producer Andrew Laughton is the 2018 Farmers Weekly Beef Farmer of the Year. 

Exceptional animal health and cost control has helped Lincolnshire beef finisher Andrew Laughton grow his output 15-fold through his outdoor corral system.

Pioneering an entirely outdoor feedlot-style beef unit allows Mr Laughton to finish 6,000 head of prime cattle a year for deadweight contracts across the UK on just 50ha.

This is a far cry from what Southfield Farm was achieving in the 1990s, when the Laughtons finished 400-500 head of dairy-bred store cattle a year and delivered straw.

A firm belief that air quality, fresh bedding and quality feed drive cattle well-being is complemented by Mr Laughton’s shrewd eye for data and performance.

See also: Meet the 2018 Beef Farmer of the Year Finalists

Andrew Laughton

Southfield Farm, Louth, Lincolnshire

Andrew Laughton

Andrew Laughton © Jim Varney

Farm facts

  • Finishing 6,000 cattle a year
  • 50.5ha farmed across Southfield Farm and nearby Manby Airfield
  • Supplying cattle on deadweight contracts to abattoirs across the UK
  • 60cm rainfall a year
  • Muck-for-straw agreements with arable farmers
  • Supplying eight full-time and two part-time staff

Lincolnshire’s relatively dry climate and the farm’s proximity to factories, arable farms and potato growers support business profitability by allowing outdoor housing and a cost-effective, high-energy ration.

This helps control depreciation costs and allows Mr Laughton’s business skills to flourish, feeding an entirely bought-in ration containing bread and potato waste and Trafford Gold.

EID-collected data tells the team which breeds perform best and which bulls are producing the best progeny, allowing the business to ignore sources that don’t meet expectations.

On arrival, cattle are EID tagged and weighed to be put on a specific diet and wormed, fluke drenched, given a respiratory vaccination and a trace element bolus.

Technical efficiency

Cattle either come in as traditional store bullocks and heifers from live marts from Ashford to Stirling at 12-18 months or through integrated dairy-beef schemes at 12 weeks old weighing about 200-210kg.  

A growing dataset has found the integrated animals achieved 333.9kg carcasses in 549 days, which is 3.5kg heavier and 206 days young than the conventional store cattle.

All cattle are categorised on breed. Angus and Hereford scheme cattle grow the fastest on average at a daily liveweight gain 1.25-1.3kg.

Successes

Superior growth and profit of integrated calf finishing means the business has found a more lucrative venture to diversify into further in the future.

Housing outdoors 365 days a year has resulted in mortality rates of less than 1% and antibiotics are used on only 2.6% of cattle.

A pen of 300 cattle can be bedded by one person in a matter of minutes with a carrot straw shredder. Pens are bedded three to four times/week and daily in winter. 

During times of extreme weather, small groups of cattle are moved inside farm buildings. Misters and morning and evening feeding minimise the effects of hot summer weather, while extra bedding, rations and straw well shelter protects animals during wintry weather.

Staff are trained in handling and loading cattle through a handling system designed to have no bruise points, based on Temple Grandin’s principles, with quiet, low-stress black sand from blast furnaces on loading pen floors.

The future

Integrated dairy-beef finishing and continuing current muck-for-straw agreements will be vital for future expansion. There are huge possibilities for contract rearing since Mr Laughton’s system is so modular and replicable.

Mr Laughton’s tremendous engagement and discussion with people inside and outside of the livestock industry will remain important for a better-functioning beef supply chain.

Winning ways

  • Outdoor system has minimised antibiotics use
  • Industry engagement – National Beef Association and Red Tractor
  • Using waste products from food industry
  • Data-driven system
  • Makes bedding work easy to keep immaculately clean cattle
  • Keen focus on net margin and cost of production

A word from our independent judge

“Andrew is focused on producing beef as efficiently as possible using technology and research data to improve performance. He is also co-operating with arable farms and integrated beef supply chain systems.”

Rhidian Jones, independent beef and sheep adviser at RJ Livestock systems

Farmers Weekly Awards 2018 Beef Farmer of the Year is sponsored by ABP Food Group

The other finalists were:

  • Ben Harman, Grove Farm, Chesham, Buckinghamshire
  • Natasha and Richard Mann, Iken Hall Farm, Woodbridge, Suffolk

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