When Peter Brown considered his future under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS) he knew he had to maintain an income without headage payments. Mr Brown’s aims were to reduce costs and increase output from his beef herd, while making the most of the resources available to him.
Mr Brown currently runs a mixed farm just outside Bicester, Oxfordshire which extends to more than 480ha (1,186 acres). Alongside 320ha (790 acres) of arable ground is 100ha (247 acres) of permanent pasture on which he currently runs 120 cows plus their progeny. As well as the cattle, Mr Brown farms 400 outdoor sows, taking progeny through to bacon.
Before SPS changes Mr Brown finished cattle on an extensive system involving fattening steers at two years old to claim the second Beef Special Premium.
A review of the farm business, in light of the pending SPS and with help from the costings compiled for the farm by EBLEX, Mr Brown looked to simplify his system and identify areas to lower costs.
The farm had a mixture of livestock buildings and a traditional grass silage system. A significant change was to convert the old stone farm buildings into high specification offices and erect a new low cost steel portal shed. This allowed the housing of all cattle and enabled the use of a feed mixer wagon purchased in 2002.
The change of system meant time taken for winter feeding was shorter. But the feed mixer wagon also allowed use of a straw-based diet using homegrown and cheaper bought-in feed. As a result, temporary silage ground was no longer required and so was turned over to cereal production.
With a simpler and quicker feeding regime, cost savings could be made particularly with regards to labour and the need for a full-time stockman. This led to a reduction in labour costs to the business.
Mr Brown changed the system from finishing steers and heifers at two years old and older to finishing heifers at 18 months off grass and bulls at 12 months. Feeding rations were changed from silage-based to straw-based. The new system has only being running for one year and costs will be closely monitored to identify the savings.
A system to intensively finish bulls improved turnover both physically and financially from cattle. Regular weighing of cattle has helped monitor growth rates and ensure targets are met. This paid dividends in its first year when growth rates were 0.3kg a day below expected levels of about 1.7kg a day. An investigation led to an adjustment in the feed ration and growth rates subsequently increased.
The overall aim for the future of the cattle at Park Farm is for a lower cost and higher output system. The plan is to have an intensive bull finishing system in the top third of producers. A change in the system has contributed to the aims that Mr Brown has set for the beef cattle and will hopefully ensure good prospects for the enterprise.
Peter Brown – Park Farm, Bicester, Oxfordshire
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