Calving switch makes most out of poor grazing
By James Garner
MOVING calving dates from summer to spring and fattening bulls rather than steers has changed the look of Transacre Estates beef enterprise.
In conjunction with its Signet consultant Geoff Fish, Transacres farms director Bob Brewer and beef manager Richard Grantham have modified the Norfolk estates 200-head suckler cow unit to best fit its resources over the last year.
Despite practical changes, Mr Brewer remains mindful that maximising subsidy claims is essential. This means claiming bull special premium, suckler cow premium, slaughter premium and top tier extensification payments by maintaining stocking density below 1.6LSU/ha.
With a forage area of 300ha (700 acres) the unit has an average stocking rate of about 1.2LSU/ha, comfortably under the EPS limit, says Mr Fish.
The biggest single change is a switch from summer to spring calving and about 50% of cows already calve in spring. This change will be completed in 2001, says Mr Grantham.
Spring calving affords easier summer management when cows are grazing. Much grazing is poor quality marshland situated close to the Norfolk Broads and it can take up to three hours a day to check cows during summer calving. It is far less stressful if cows have a difficult calving indoors, he adds.
The move also means cows eat less feed during winter. Even though this years ration was cheap stock feed potatoes and straw, it is still a cost saving, says Mr Fish. "It is cheaper to feed a dry cow than one suckling."
Mr Granthams policy has been to calve in two periods, but to only replace cattle in the spring herd.
He plans to have the bull running with summer calvers as soon as they calve in June, to bring cows more in-line with the spring herd.
Every cow can then be pregnancy diagnosed in August and any cow thats not will be sold, so the changeover is then complete.
Replacement heifers are being bought for the spring herd only, but buying policy has been an area of contention. Mr Brewer says that over-wintering bought-in heifers is unworkable because of lack of building space, so this year Transacre has purchased bulling heifers in spring.
These were bought as one batch of 25 dairy cross heifers that are currently running with a Bazadais bull. However, Mr Fish believes that Continental cross heifers may be a better buy. These would grow into larger framed cows with potential for bigger calves.
But this argument is not enough to persuade Mr Grantham and Mr Brewer, who both believe that traditional breeds of cow survive better on its poor grazing. "Particularly when it comes to getting them back-in calf," adds Mr Grantham.
But in Mr Fishs opinion the benefits of bigger framed heifer and bull calves outweighs this problem.
• Changeover happening.
• No summer replacements.
• Cull old summer calvers.
Dairy cross bulling heifers with a Bazadais bull at Transacre Estates. Richard Grantham (inset) reckons traditional breeds of cow will survive better on its poor grazing.