Doug Dear, the British Farming Awards Beef Innovator of the Year winner, recently hosted an open day at his farm in North Yorkshire. Angela Calvert finds out how the award has impacted on the business.
When Doug Dear was awarded the Beef Innovator of the Year trophy, at the 2015 British Farming Awards, he had no idea of the impact it would have on his business.
He said: “I was very surprised but very pleased to win as there were some really good businesses on the shortlist.
“Since then it has really raised my profile and had a positive effect on what we do. We have gained new customers and increased cattle numbers, enabling the businesses to continue to expand.”
The last five years have seen a complete transformation of the 304-hectare (750-acre) beef and arable business Mr Dear runs with his wife Pam and his parents Alan and Elizabeth at Osgodby, near Selby, North Yorkshire.
They formerly ran a suckler herd and then had a spell finishing black and white bulls, but found both these enterprises involved a huge amount of capital along with an equal amount of risk for little, if any, financial reward.
Keen to continue with a beef enterprise which would fit alongside the arable operation, they decided to move solely into contract finishing. Since then the business has been growing steadily and now in excess of 1,500-head of cattle are finished annually on a ‘bed and breakfast’ basis for customers from all parts of the country.
The cattle are a mixture of young bulls which come in at about seven months old weighing 350kg, and steers and heifers aged from 18-24 months old which have had a summer at grass. There are native and continental breeds in the system, but increasingly most of the bulls are now Stabilisers.
Mr Dear said: “I like Stabilisers. They are good to work with and suit this system. A lot of my customers keep Stabiliser cows because they work well on their farms as they are efficient and easy to manage, but do not really have a local outlet for the bull as stores and do not have the space or easy access to straw, corn and by-products to finish them like we do in this area.
"Plus, by retaining ownership they know how the cattle progress.”
In excess of 1,500 cattle are finished on farm annually on a 'bed and 'breakfast' basis for customers
All cattle are sold to Woodheads/Morrisons. The Stabilisers and any of the bulls which meet the spec go for their yearling beef scheme.
Mr Dear said: “We are shortening the supply chain to just three links – the breeder, the finisher and the processor – which takes out costs and is better for the cattle.
“We are also aiming to finish them to a very tight spec of R3 or R4L, with a carcase weight of 320-370kg deadweight. This means we can fill a wagon with 36 very similar cattle every week. This suits the processor which needs to be able to have a consistent quality product to sell week in week out.”
Cattle are weighed on arrival and on leaving and at intervals in between so daily liveweight gain (DLWG) can be calculated. Cattle currently average 1.75kg of DLWG across the whole yard, including all breeds and sexes.
Mr Dear added: “Steers and heifers are finished within 90 days, anything less and there can be problems with farm assurance if they are off a non-assured holding. We do not keep them any longer than necessary as they get over fat, cost more and are worth less.
“Bulls are finished between 12 and 14 months old, although a large proportion are slaughtered at just a year old in spec. The last ones we sent have done 1.76kg liveweight gain from birth, or in real terms 0.98kg of daily carcase gain from birth.”
Cost control and a transparent pricing system are key to the success of the operation, with every penny accounted for.
Before arrival cattle have to be given a wormer and flukicide plus be vaccinated against IBR and pasteurella and on arrival EID and management tags are inserted.
The cattle handling system on the 304-hectare (750-acre) farm
Customers are charged a fixed rate per day per animal which includes straw, water and labour to cover maintenance. Feed charges are calculated on an ‘as fed’ basis. That is per kilo of feed eaten per animal per day and takes into account the variability in size of animals and the amount individuals are eating.
Feed is dispensed thorough a Mech Fiber 360 with an IC weigh box and two diets are fed; the bull diet being cereal-based and the steer and heifer diet more forage-based.
Cattle are fed to appetite to ensure they clear up and pens are constantly monitored to see if adjustments to quantity need to be made using a bunker scoring system.
The mixer wagon records all ingredients for the diets as they are loaded and then what is given to each pen. It can then calculate how much has been eaten of which diet, by each pen and works out the cost per animal based on dry matter intake. This information is then stored on iCloud.
The In-Touch app is also used which uses information generated by the feed wagon to monitor DMI and sends an alert if there are any changes to the norm, meaning any problems can be dealt with before they escalate.
Each customer receives a spreadsheet every 28 days giving them information about their cattle’s progress to keep them fully informed.
Mr Dear said: “The success of the business is all about creating a vertically integrated supply chain, with each party playing their part to maximise efficiency.”
Doug Dear has been working with the Beef Improvement Group and Morrisons in the development of its yearling beef scheme. This is open to young Stabiliser bulls, and other breeds by arrangement, for which, if they meet the required specifications, producers will be paid a premium.
Speaking at the open day, David Evans, head of agriculture at Morrisons, said: “We need to be able to provide our customers with a consistent quality product all-year-round, so developing a sustainable beef production system is important to us.
“Bulls, produced to our tight specifications, are a very important part of this and have a number of advantages, both for us and for producers. Research has shown if slaughtered at 12-14 months of age, the eating quality of bulls compares well with steers. Plus, the nature of the system means they are also producing a very consistent carcase.
“Bulls can reach the same slaughter weight as steers 10 months earlier using about two tonnes less feed over their lifetime. Although they may require more concentrate feed, this is offset by lower fixed costs due to the shorter production time. Overall this can have a big impact on margin for the producer and free up resources to increase cow numbers and therefore overall productivity of the herd.
“It also impacts on greenhouse gas emissions as producing a steer carcase at 23 months of age generates 2.65 times more methane than producing a bull carcase to 13 months of age.
“Work has also been done by the University of Bristol which shows yearling bull beef has a very low total fat and saturated fat level and has the potential to be lower in fat than any other major animal protein, including chicken and pork, which has to be a great selling point.”