Troy Stuart and his father Roy, have fine-tuned the process over many years to ensure they buy their stock well, maintain good health and finish in time with the required carcase grades.
Their strategy forms the basis for maintaining healthy profits at Wood Farm in Farringdon, East Devon, where up to 3,000 head pass through the system every year. However, any small hiccup can make a serious dent in the farm’s bottom line and turn a financially healthy enterprise into one making a loss.
“It all starts with the buying,” says Troy Stuart, praising his father for his ability to judge stock on the hoof whether buying from nearby Exeter Market or further afield in Newton Abbot, Bridgwater, Tavistock or Frome. “He’s looking for strong stores, aged 18 months to two years, which have generally finished growing and just need to be finished.”
Not seeking to grow any further frame, he says some cattle will achieve fast growth rates whereas other types they have learnt to avoid, those which simply won’t grow at the required rate or produce a good carcase. “It’s easy to say and hard to do, and credit goes to my dad for that,” says Mr Stuart. “We’ll also buy privately and are happy to have any beef breed, but don’t want pure dairy or to pay a premium for the popular native beef breeds.”
This tends to mean they have more continentals, which suit the system well and should not go to fat on their intensive finishing regime. Devising a system through which they’ll achieve high dry matter intakes and high daily gains is the next step of the process and for the Stuart Partners – with more than 809 hectares (2,000 acres) to farm – it is also important the system is simple and does not take much time.
“Sometimes the cattle have to take second place when we are busy with the other side of the farm or with our contracting business,” says Mr Stuart.
An ad lib system fits the bill for all of these requirements, encouraging high intakes and growth rates and being very easy to manage.
“It also means we can mix groups without any bullying as the cattle soon learn they can get up and feed whenever they want,” he says.
“They are also completely relaxed so they don’t waste energy fighting to reach the barrier.” The ration the farm has chosen is the ultimate in simplicity, comprising the ForFarmers high starch finisher nut, Prime Grade plus Levucell, along with ad lib grass silage. Mineral blocks are also offered to offset the deficiencies seen in many of the new stock coming off the local hills.
“We’ve been operating this system for at least 12 years and we’ve actually carried out trials on the farm to find the best ration,” says Mr Stuart. “We’ve tried the same nut without Levucell as well as a competitor product and we also tried grain maize grown on the farm.” The system the Stuarts operate allowed weighing every two weeks, which continued through the trials – just as it does in the routine operation.
“The nut with Levucell was by far the best of all those we tried, so we have stuck with this product for the past 12 or more years,” he says. “We not only found we were getting between 0.25 and 0.5kg/day extra liveweight gain but we were also told by the abattoir they like the resulting meat.”
Health has also been exceptionally good while this nut has been fed, particularly seen in rumen health, with no animals bloating or having acidosis, little sign of scouring, and extremely low losses for the size of operation.
“The most we have lost in any year would be four or five head out of two to three thousand,” says Mr Stuart. Growth rates on the chosen system are also impressive, with the best cattle gaining over 3kg/day. “Our goal is to get them close to 400kg deadweight – roughly 750kg liveweight – and we are basically putting on the final 150kg,” says Mr Stuart, remarking that although they will be turned out at certain times of year, they will all come into sheds for finishing.
“However, they’re usually on the farm a fortnight before they start to do anything; they’ll increase weight slowly in the next couple of weeks; but it is in their second month that they’ll really start to motor, putting on up to 100kg.” Selling to St Merryn Meat, the target carcase grade is R or above, with fat at 4L.
“The vast majority are Rs but we also get some U- but will be penalised if fat goes up to 4H,” he says. Weighing every two weeks is said to be very important in order to hit targets, to ensure the cattle are not kept for longer than required and to keep the business in profit.
Mixing stock from different sources and systems into one group will always present challenges and every measure which will reduce stress will contribute to a successful outcome. ForFarmers says that is why the live yeast product, Levucell, is so important when stock are brought from different backgrounds in for finishing, as it will quickly stabilise rumen pH across the group, maintain good rumen health and kick-start weight gain.
ForFarmers beef specialist, Katherine Bigwood, says: “Some of the stock coming on to the Stuarts’ farm could be undergoing massive changes, with many coming from low intake systems on to intensive finishing. “Levucell quickly starts to stabilise the rumen pH of the group and has a profound effect on rumen function. “The product works in a variety of 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, and also by mopping up lactic acid,” she says.
“This raises and regulates the rumen’s pH at close to the desirable 6.2 and will help break down feed, making more nutrients available for absorption by the animal. “This not only helps account for the excellent rumen health we see when stock are fed this rumen-specific live yeast, but it also explains the exceptional performance achieved in the Stuarts’ stock. “And by also choosing our Prime Grade beef finisher nut, they can be confident they are balancing the forage with exactly the nutrients required,” she says.