2 April 1999

Beef units aim – quality


IMPROVING the quality of beef carcasses is the aim of Birdsall Beef Company, one of the largest lowland suckler units in the north-east.

With 1100 beef cows, including some 130 pedigree Charolais, production of quality single suckled beef is seen as the pointer to future profitability, whatever happens to EU support.

Because of the unknowns in the Agenda 2000 package, Michael Willoughby, who runs cattle on 616ha (1522 acres) of unploughable permanent grass with farm manager Robin Hughes, has been unable to calculate the likely financial implications.

With 90% of his cattle ineligible for beef special premium because of the existing 90-head limit, phasing in of improved headage payments is likely to make little difference, he believes.

And higher suckler cow premiums could have to be offset against the claw-back of quota affecting 65 of his cows.

The introduction of a slaughter premium under Agenda 2000, applying to all cattle, including heifers, would be needed to cover the drop in beef intervention price, Mr Willoughby says.

NFU figures suggest similar gross margins for most of the coming decade. If that was the case, the outlook was poor because fixed costs were bound to rise.

The company has been co-operating with other leading Charolais breeders in sire performance testing work, seeking higher growth rates and better carcass conformation in commercial cattle through the sire line. Now attention is being turned to breeding an improved suckler dam.

The group has imported stabiliser embryos – an American bred maternal line based on a Red Angus, Hereford, Gelbvieh and Black Simmental four way crossing programme. Up to 50 calves have now been born, with 12 of them being reared at Birdsall.

Mr Willoughby says young bulls of the American breed will be performance tested, with the best producing semen for sale with a calf buy-back arrangement.

Ultimately, he hopes to see seven eighths and pure-bred stabiliser cattle becoming widely available as suckler replacements.

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