Farmer Focus: Cut barley to save money on finishing bulls

With lambing finished, things have become a bit less hectic here. It has gone well, with the weather in our favour.

Lambing everything outside certainly leaves us vulnerable on this front, but it’s the right system for us – and good weather can tip the balance of enjoyment. 

See also: How finishing bulls at 13 months raised suckler efficiency

About the author

David Girvan
Livestock Farmer Focus writer David Girvan and family run a 140-cow Stabiliser herd and wool-shedding crossbred ewes on a 3,000ha upland farm west of Inverness. Finished stock are sent to Woodheads. Diversifications include pumpkin picking, wind turbines and a biomass boiler.
Read more articles by David Girvan

At the time of writing, calving is more than 80% done, with 125 cows calved out of 145. We have assisted one cow, with twins. The calves unfortunately didn’t survive – not such positive news.

We are on track to finish calving within the eight-week window, hopefully there will be no more assistance required.

Over the past few years, we’ve been keeping about 25 of our best male calves. Some are sold as breeding bulls through the Stabiliser Cattle Company, and the rest finished.

Throughout summer and first winter, we take out any that are looking unsuitable for breeding and finish them intensively on a barley-based diet. 

With the big jump in barley prices, we decided late last year to keep the finishing bulls on the same diet as the breeding bulls – a silage-based diet with up to 4kg of concentrate.

This saves massively on the ad-lib barley feeding we usually do, which sees them eating more than 10kg a head a day.

Although the barley price has now come back down, we are sticking with the original plan. All the bulls went to grass on 6 April, as one group on a rotation.

In hindsight, I could have put them out a couple of weeks earlier. They have just finished their first rotation and are fleshing up well.

The plan is to market them just before they reach 16 months, which is older than intensively feeding them, but hopefully making a better margin because cost a day is lower.

The good spell of weather has made it easier to get all of our reseeds done. We have put one field in an arable silage mix containing barley, oats and peas.

Last year we had good results using this mix, with no added fertiliser, although last year’s arable silage was not any better quality than the grass silage.

I think they work well together and will be used for feeding weaned calves through the winter.