Ration balance, simplicity and monitoring underpin the beef system run by Michael Strother and provide some valuable lessons for those looking to make more from cereals this winter.
Every decision Michael Strother makes is geared towards producing beef in the most cost-effective, simple way possible through the use of home-grown cereals and careful genetic selection.
Regularly weighing of cattle and feed intakes allows feed conversion rates to be continuously monitored, which helps in the selection of replacements and enables any drop in performance to be picked up early.
Balancing cereals with the appropriately-formulated concentrate also helps unlock the full potential of home-grown barley in the most economic way possible.
Mr Strother runs 70 commercial spring-calving Limousin cross, British Blue cross and Aberdeen-Angus cross suckler cows and seven pedigree Limousins with his wife Louise at Fowberry Moor Farm, Northumberland. The commercials are artificially inseminated with British
Blue, Limousin, Aberdeen-Angus or Charolais semen and all calves are finished on-farm.
“The aim is to finish cattle at as big a weight as possible and as quickly as possible, while controlling costs. But the final weight is a moveable feast depending on what the abattoir requires,” says Mr Strother, who regularly compares feed costs and beef prices to assess the most effective way to finish cattle.
To optimise growth rates, Mr Strother works closely with Mole Agriculture’s beef and sheep specialist Kenny McDonald.
Mr McDonald says: “The aim is to formulate a ration which makes the most of home-grown cereals and creates an optimum balance between costs and cattle performance.”
The ration is made up home-grown barley which is milled and mixed with a 34 per cent protein concentrate on-farm and sugar beet is added at certain times of the year. The same ingredients are used across all stock, with ratios varied to deliver the correct level of protein and starch at different stages. Mr McDonald says this is the best way to get more from cereals.
He says: “When cereals look good value, there is a tendency to overcomplicate the home mix by using several different by-products or straights and mixing on-farm. But this can lead to expensive ingredients on-farm which go off, lose feed value or need a lot of capital outlay.
“By purchasing a ready-made concentrate and adjusting percentage inclusion, it is possible to create a bespoke ration for a number of different classes of stock.”
The aim of a concentrate or balancer is to release energy and protein at different times of the day so the animal can convert feed as efficiently as possible, while maintaining a stable rumen pH. The protein concentrate includes rape, soya, urea, wheat feed and dark
grain along with vitamins, minerals and live yeast.
Kenny McDonald’s ‘golden rules’ when feeding cereals
At Fowberry Moor Farm, cows calve in spring with calves receiving creep while at grass along with straw or haylage. Calves are bought inside at weaning and receive the same diet, excluding grazed grass for about 10 days. Bulls then move onto an ad-lib cereal mix with straw available, while heifers receive 3-5kg/head/day of the cereal mix and ad-lib haylage.
Around November, the aim is to provide a 16 per cent protein mix of 70 per cent crushed barley, 5 per cent sugar beet, 25 per cent of the concentrate and yeast. Beet pulp will be dropped out around Christmas.
Heifers then remain on a 16 per cent diet through to finish. Bulls have their concentrate inclusion gradually dropped from the New Year to bring protein levels down to 12-13 per cent around finishing.
The amount of feed provided to bulls is monitored using weigh cells on the forklift and by counting bags fed to heifers. Intakes are then compared to cattle weights which are recorded monthly from weaning. This is then used to calculate feed conversion rates.
Mr Strother says: “I think it is critical to weigh cattle and feed. If there is a problem you have the ability to quickly see where things are going wrong.”
Now the ration is where he wants it, Mr Strother is focusing on cattle genetics and adopts a strict culling policy based on performance. With the aim to increase numbers to 120 cows, the focus is currently on the maternal side.
Artificial insemination is being used to drive improvements in milking ability and ease of calving. Two hundred and 400 day weights are still a key focus with estimated breeding values used to select sires in the top 5 per cent for beef value.
Mr Strother, who has also started breeding his own pedigree black Limousin bulls on the herd, says: “I link the weight gain figures with the calf’s dam and sire to track performance. If the calf is heavier, I am more likely to retain any related stock.”