Farmer Focus: Cow efficiency averages 48% this year

During early winter, most of the work has involved feeding and handling cattle inside. They came in slightly earlier than usual, in mid-November. The aim is a five-month winter, with seven months of grazing.

Shortly after Christmas, a small load of 20-month-old finished cattle steers was sent to Yorkshire for slaughter. These cattle were part of our continuing experiment to supply our customers with low-carbon beef.

They had been finished on red clover leys over the summer and did not receive any concentrates during their lifetime.

The breeding cows were scanned in November, and we were pleased to learn that all cows were in-calf. This does not usually happen, but is a pleasant surprise when it does.

See also: Calculating beef weaning efficiency and why it is important

About the author

Dafydd Parry Jones
Dafydd Parry Jones and wife Glenys, Machynlleth, Powys, run a closed flock of 750 Texel and Aberfield cross ewes and 70 Hereford cross sucklers cows on 180ha. Their upland organic system uses Hereford bulls, Charollais terminal sires and red clover silage, multispecies leys and rotational grazing.
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All cattle have been weighed, given vitamin boluses and fluke doses and had their heads, back and tails shaved.

We do this on wet, windy days as the handling facilities are in a shed. With the radio on the table and plenty of light overhead, it can be a pleasant job on a miserable winter’s day.

We aim to separate the calves around New Year when the wind is blowing strongly from west to east, to ensure the noise is carried away from the village.

The cows and calves are weighed, and we calculate the percentage weight of each calf compared with its mother.

By doing this, we can determine which are our most efficient cows, and which ones are less productive and need culling.

The average cow weight fluctuates each year and is often a reflection of the grazing conditions during the previous summer.

Our average weight is about 600kg. Some of them are far too heavy, at 700kg or more, and they don’t wean bigger calves.

Our aim is to have 550kg cows, rearing a 300kg calf with no creep at 200 days. Weaned calves get as much as they can eat of the best silage. This year the herd efficiency averaged 48%, ranging from 35-60%.

Beef cows are not the most efficient animals to keep, producing one calf a year. They are a great grazing tool on an upland farm, but they must be efficient.