Introducing concentrate feed at an early age has transformed performance at Milston Farm, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, where progeny from the mixed-breed suckler herd now leaves the farm around four months earlier than in the past. Ann Hardy reports.
The merits of this approach have gradually become apparent to Tom Parsons, who farms with his father Ian, and brother, Richard, whose 809 hectares (2,000 acres) of tenanted farm includes three distinct beef enterprises totalling around 1,000 head. The change in regime has also coincided with a simplification of the ration which today comprises grass silage with just two ingredients.
“With an arable operation to run, we don’t want to be tied up feeding cattle for long and now we’ve simplified the system, it takes us no more than 20 minutes to feed 280 bulls,” says Tom.
The bought-in, dairy cross bulls make up just one third of the cattle business of the Parsons’ farm, which also includes a new enterprise comprising around 100 black and white dairy bull calves reared for rosé veal, as well as a 250-head herd of Hereford cross Angus suckler cows which make use of 607ha (1,500 acres) of rough grazing on the Salisbury Plain.
All three groups of growing and finishing cattle are fed on the same three ingredients which is well illustrated by the home-bred, mostly Charolais-sired calves from the native breed suckler herd.
“These calves are born between March and May and the cows – which are over-wintered on stubble turnips and silage – are turned out to grass as soon as they calve,” explains Tom.
“The calves have a creep pellet from the outset and we make sure we keep the feeder full to help the development of the rumen,” he says. “However, as consumption goes up – usually by about three months – we move them on to rolled barley, which we mix with a high protein pellet, PrimeMix 34.”
This 34 per cent protein balancer contains a live yeast, Levucell TITAN, and is specifically designed to complement cereals, to provide the correct levels of energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and trace elements to improve rumen health and animal performance.
“At the start, we are aiming to get the overall protein in the ration to about 17-18 per cent, which – because the protein in our barley has been quite high – we are able to achieve with 175kg of PrimeMix 34 in each tonne of concentrates,” he says.
“By the time the calves are weaned in October or November, they are consuming about 2kg/head of the concentrate mix,” he says.
Bringing them in for winter, he says they all move up a gear, until the heifers are sold as stores the following April or May. “The steers are then pushed much harder, moving from around 3-4kg/day of concentrates up to 8kg,” he says.
This means they finish at 21-22 months and a deadweight of 400-440kg,” he says. “They are mostly U and R grades and class four for fat.”
Selling to ABP in Langport, he says the family is particularly pleased with the speed at which they grow and can be sent off the farm, freeing up space in the sheds for more bought-in stock.
“Before we started with this regime, we had far lower weaning weights and had to push much harder to get the weight on later,” he says. “It used to take forever to finish them and they’d probably be around 25 or 26 months by the time they left the farm. Now we push them earlier it is so much easier to get the weight on later, and we believe the Levucell TITAN has been particularly good for rumen health,” he says.
This has also been demonstrated in the bought-in dairy cross continental bulls which are run as a separate venture and are pushed even harder than the suckler-bred beef, to finish at 14- 15 months.
“These bulls go on to the barley PrimeMix 34 concentrate as soon as they arrive on the farm at around three months of age, and again we aim for a 16 per cent protein mix in the overall ration,” he says.
“When they reach 300kg we reduce the protein to 14 per cent and we push them really hard by offering them ad lib feed,” he says.
“They eat around 10-12kg day of the concentrate alongside ad lib straw, and they usually finish at a deadweight of 360- 400kg.”
Pushing them hard with this level of concentrate has had no detrimental effect with no acidosis on the farm and just one case of bloat out of 280 head.
“We were never able to push them like this without the PrimeMix 34, but usually hovered about 4-5kg/day of cereals – but no more than this for fear of acidosis,” says Tom.
Today, he says they are happy with the system, particularly with its ease of use, and now they use the same ingredients for all the stock reared and grown on the farm.
“Animal health and performance have been very good; feeding is really quick and simple and we are happy we are getting the most we can out of our stock before it leaves the farm,” says Tom.
Feeding live yeast to youngstock from the moment the starter pellet is introduced is one way of getting rumen development off to a good start. And it is well known the feed conversion efficiency of young calves is better than it will ever be later in life, so a good early start will often reap the richest rewards of all.
This philosophy lies behind the introduction of Levucell TITAN, the live yeast product from ForFarmers, to youngstock rations, and helps account for the levels of performance which have been recorded when it is included in the diet.
“There’s an opportunity to achieve exceptional feed conversion efficiency at an early age, compared with an older animal which requires much more energy just to maintain itself,” explains Nick Berni, ruminant product manager with ForFarmers.
“Levucell TITAN works in various 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 function,” he says.
“This will help maximise the break down of feed and make more nutrients available for absorption by the animal, it will also help in the development of rumen papillae,” he says.
“This not only helps with rumen development in the younger animal, but continues to maintain rumen health as the animal matures,” he says.
“Levucell TITAN mops up lactic acid, so raising and regulating the rumen’s pH at close to the desirable pH of 6.2. This function is said to be particularly helpful in the product, PrimeMix 34, which has been developed specifically to complement a high cereal based diets.
“As anyone rearing and finishing beef on cereals will be aware, there’s a growing danger of acidosis, the harder you push your animals to gain weight,” he says. “This danger markedly diminishes if Levucell TITAN is part of the ration, simply through its maintenance of optimal rumen pH and health,” he says.
Contact ForFarmers on 08457 228 853 or visit Stand 83 at Beef Expo 2016