Store calf move aims to finish low margins
DECLINING margins for suckler calves sold as stores is forcing one Bucks producer to reorganise livestock enterprises to take calves through to finishing in a bid to boost beef margins.
Stephen Whiteford of Bridge Farm, Addington, Bucks, says the decline in store cattle prices after BSE is forcing a radical shake up of farming policy to maintain income on the 121ha (300-acre) unit.
Stores which have sold for £600 a head in previous years are now fetching just £400 a head. "At this price there is no margin for store producers," he says.
Instead, Continental cross calves from the units 240-cow suckler herd will be finished on-farm for local market and abattoir trade. Using a combination of Belgian Blue and Limousin sires to improve confirmation, calves at foot will be offered 2kg/head/day of a creep mix of 65% barley, 30% wheat and 5% molasses through to weaning.
After weaning, calves will be reared in yards on a mix of maize and grass silage, supplemented with soya and minerals. Heifers will be offered 50:50 maize:grass silage and 1kg/head/day of a soya-based protein supplement giving an overall ME of 11.6. Bulls will be offered more maize and a 12.5 ME potato by-product supplement, equivalent in energy value to cereals.
"I am targeting daily gains of 1.5-1.6kg a head and aim to have cattle finished at just over a year old," says Mr Whiteford. A small group of calves has just been finished on this system and achieved killing out rates of 60%, reflecting quality of beef bulls used. Bulls finished to 500kg liveweight achieved £1.07/kg and heifers finished to 450kg liveweight achieved £1.04/kg.
Finishing cattle gives the opportunity to increase subsidy claims from Beef Special Premium for the first 90 head of entire male finishers, while costs of production are capped. All rations are mixed on-farm using an eight-year-old mixer wagon purchased second-hand several years ago for £3500.
Although beef margins hardly justify the equivalent in new kit, Mr Whiteford says second-hand tackle is affordable. "There is no reason why it should not be used, ours has needed little maintenance." A consequence of the change in beef policy, which has forced a reduction in labour down to just one herdsman and a part-time helper, means the units sheep flock is being cut from 950 North Country Mules ewes to just 200 to fill the units ewe quota.
"Well continue using Beltex tups to produce prime lamb, but the workload will be cut, especially at lambing which competes with calving," he adds. A dispersal sale for ewes will be held later this year. *