Nigel Fieldhouse has taken his family’s beef production business and decided to feed, breed and manage the herd in a more efficient way. Alongside switching his breed of suckler cow, he has moved away from complicated rations, targeted two-year-calving and aimed for higher youngstock growth rates.
Farming 196 hectares (485 acres) on a combination of owned and mostly tenanted land at Keys Hill Farm, Wildmoor, Worcestershire, Nigel Fieldhouse believes setting performance targets under the new regime and reaching them with more efficiency is helping future-proof his business for uncertain times.
At the heart of the process has been switching feeds from a range of bought-in ingredients, including separate bags of protein, fats and minerals, to a single balancer product which is designed to complement the cereals he can grow at home.
This single product, ForFarmers PrimeMix 34 + Levucell TITAN, is formulated to make the most of home-grown rolled barley and is to be fed in different proportions with barley to different ages and types of stock.
“This makes it an incredibly simple system,” says Mr Fieldhouse, who farms in partnership with his mother Kay and wife Teresa, and feeds the balancer at either a 15 or 25 per cent inclusion rate, depending on age of stock.
“There are no blends or straights to deal with, so it definitely eases management and saves us a lot of time.”
It also supplies vitamins, minerals and trace elements to optimise health and performance.
However, the greatest effect has been seen in the performance and growth rates of stock, whether that is heifers being grown into suckler cows for the herd or calves being sold off their dams.
“Our goal is to produce a top conformation calf to sell as a really good store off the cow.” These will generally be sold through Bridgnorth Market aged seven to nine months, at about 285kg. “This spring they averaged £830 apiece,” he says. “We were over the moon with that, and some we sold that were slightly older, aged about 12 months or more, made more than £1,000.”
Calves from Keys Hill Farm have been in the limelight for consistently taking prizes, winning the best group of four or more store cattle in last autumn’s St Luke’s Fair and also taking first and second place for the best pen of six steers at the May Fair Sale 2019.
Getting calves to this point has involved starting them early on creep at about four weeks of age, and switching to the barley/balancer mix at roughly 12-14 weeks.
Mr Fieldhouse says: “We gradually switch from the starter pellets to the mix, which at this age comprises 75 per cent barley and 25 per cent PrimeMix 34 + Levucell TITAN.”
This gives an overall protein of 15 per cent in the concentrate, which is fed with grass silage over winter and offered ad-lib.
He says: “They do incredibly well on this and never show signs of acidosis or the tender feet we have seen in the past.”
Also opting to feed his replacement heifers on a similar mix, he says he is starting to treat them more like dairy replacements, with regular weighing and two-year target calving.
“We work closely with Peter Evans from ForFarmers and have adjusted the ration if growth rates have slipped back. It has been a very valuable thing and we are close to our target daily liveweight gain and hitting our calving dates.”
Also opting to change his suckler cow breed, Mr Fieldhouse says: “We have found the Limousin to be a bit too spirited, so we are switching to a British Blue cross Holstein Friesian, which we find has a very good temperament and we hope will bring more milk.”
Serving these to a Limousin bull, he believes will maintain conformation in the youngstock.
He says: “We started weighing these heifers at three to four months old and are weighing them every two months all the way through. We have a target mature weight of 750kg and need to grow them at 0.9kg/day to reach this point by two-year calving.”
This is achieved through winter on grass silage and the barley/ balancer mix, the ratio of which is changed to 85:15 barley:balancer when they reach 450-500kg.
This reduces protein in the concentrate from 15 to 13 per cent, but raises starch in the dry matter from 44 per cent to almost 50 per cent.
Mr Fieldhouse says: “By also bringing calving forward to two instead of two-and-a-half years, we are substantially cutting the animal’s unproductive time on-farm.”
The net result of the improved performance on-farm has been to create a greater throughput of stock going to market.
He says: “A quicker throughput releases more shed and land space, so we are hoping to increase suckler cow numbers from 105 to 120 and expand the sheep flock.
“It is always more cost-effective to rear bigger bunches, so once we have the numbers up, we will increase our annual sales and profit margin per head. The enterprise is projected to rise.”
With plenty of repeat buyers at Bridgnorth Market who are pleased with the performance of stock from the farm, Mr Fieldhouse adds: “We plan to rear more heifer calves and would like to sell a few heifers and calves as an outfit.”
USING home-grown cereals is a cost-effective method of getting a high energy ration into growing calves and heifers, but comes with its risks.
Peter Evans, of ForFarmers, says: “The high starch of rolled cereals can take its toll on the rumen and, as starch levels rise, so does the risk of acidosis.
“This will take its toll on health and eat into performance, even if it occurs at a sub-clinical level.
“This is why we recommend using the live yeast product, Levucell, in situations such as this, as it regulates rumen pH, improves fibre digestion and scavenges oxygen, all of which have a positive effect on rumen health and development.
“By using it in a product with 34 per cent protein, part of which is rumen-degradable, while a proportion bypasses the rumen, it also offers a perfect balance to high starch in cereals.
“The upshot on Keys Hill Farm is it has allowed us to feed a high proportion of barley in a ration which at times is fed ad-lib, and to push for high growth rates.
“These have been achieved with improved dry matter intakes, better feed conversion efficiency and without risk to rumen health. All of this is evident when cattle enter the sale ring, where they consistently excel.”
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