In the second of a series from ForFarmers, Mid-Wales farmers, Geraint and Adrian Williams, from Llanidloes in Powys, discuss how they have developed two income streams from their suckler herd of pedigree Limousin and Limousin cross British Blue cattle.
Not simply content to regularly top the commercial sale rings with their forward stores, the Williams’ handpick a selection of their best and prepare them meticulously to sell with show potential, at six to seven months old.
The system the father and son team have developed for their upland farm, Nantygeifr, has worked well for many years, and Geraint Williams says most of their customers return year after year, both for the regular store cattle or for those they will go on to show.
A search through the sale reports reveals prices regularly hit £3,000-£5,000 (topping £6,500) at Brecon, Ruthin or Chelford Markets for the show-potential calves, while the commercial stores, sold mostly at Knighton at 10-12 months, also regularly feature at the top of the prices.
A sample sale picked out from last year showed 293p/kg for three 400kg Limousin crosses, 286p/kg for four others and 285p/kg for two British Blue crosses which grossed £940 per head.
The family pays close attention to detail when it comes to the cattle, calving most of the herd in spring.
It is this level of quality and consistency which is a hallmark of the cattle produced at Nantygeifr, where the Williams family have perfected their system for rearing calves and stores which will go on to produce high-end beef.
Mr Williams says: “It’s partly down to the breed and we feel the combination of British Blue and Limousin can produce the shape required for the showring.”
The family also look after the cattle with close attention to detail, calving most of the herd in spring to tie in with the farm’s plentiful offering of quality grass and introducing a grower nut to the calves as an ad lib creep feed in July. In consultation with their feed adviser, Guto Lewis from ForFarmers, they took the decision to use the company’s Prime Beef Grower, a 16 per cent protein nut containing the live yeast, Levucell.
“We know the yeast is good for the animals’ rumen health and they certainly shine and grow frame,” says Mr Williams.
“So we actually keep the store cattle on this product all the way through, introducing it as creep and continuing to feed it after housing in around October.” When the cattle come in for winter they are split into the ‘show potentials’ and the standard stores, and the stores receive ad lib straw and haylage together with Prime Beef Grower fed once-a-day.
“The cattle have been really healthy since we have used the product and we have never had any health or acidosis problems since it was introduced,” says Mr Williams.
The fact the nut can be blown into a bin also keeps the system simple, quick and easy to use on this purely grassland farm.
“We happy that this system works consistently well so we have no intention of changing,” he says.
“We know all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements the cattle need are also contained in the product and we can be certain we’ll get the performance.”
Other features of the system which produce the high health required by the Williams’ buyers include vaccination of the herd for BVD and leptospirosis and a pneumonia injection for the calves.
“We haven’t had pneumonia for many years, but we carry on using this as a precaution,” he says.
Cows are fed through the year on either grazed grass or haylage and mineral tubs.
“It’s true the buyers seem to like our cattle and they do seem to come back every year,” he admits.
And as a bonus, he can look on as his stock travel the fatstock show circuit, often topping the prizes – sometimes at the Christmas shows or through the summer at county events.
INTRODUCING live yeast as part of a calf’s first creep feed will get its rumen development and function off to a good start. This, in turn, will help make the most of the time when the animal has its greatest feed efficiency potential of all, as conversion is never better than at the start of the animal’s life.
This concept lies behind the introduction of Levucell, the live yeast product from ForFarmers, to youngstock rations, and helps account for the high levels of performance that have been recorded when it’s included in the young animal’s diet.
Nick Berni, ruminant product manager with ForFarmers says: “There’s an opportunity to achieve exceptional feed conversion efficiency at an early age, compared with an older animal which requires so much more just to maintain itself. There’s roughly a four to one response from the creep feed you give a calf – meaning for every 4kg/day you feed, you get around 1kg of daily liveweight gain. “This feed efficiency declines dramatically later in life, and is likely to be around 10-12:1 for an animal of 12 months old.”
The rumen-specific yeast, Levucell, helps the animal in several ways, partly by scavenging oxygen, which helps to maintain the anaerobic conditions of the rumen and creates just the right environment for the desirable microflora to do their work.
It also mops up lactic acid, so raising and regulating the rumen’s pH at close to the desirable pH of 6.2.
“All of this will help break down feed and make more nutrients available for absorption by the animal, and it will also help in the development of rumen papillae,” says Mr Berni. “This not only helps with rumen development in the younger animal, but continues to maintain rumen health as the animal matures.”
Fibre digestion is also improved when Levucell is fed, which is important for cattle at grass or on haylage and straw. It’s with this in mind that ForFarmers include Levucell in their Prime Beef Grower, to maximise forage utilisation, whether grazed or conserved.