Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014

of 15 /15
lead to a decrease in stress, mak- ing the calves more resilient to respiratory disease. L ate autumn is a time when many farmers will make decisions about when to wean the spring-calving suckler herd calves. Andy Adler, director of Synergy Farm Health, says this decision may be based on whether calves are going to mar- ket, are to be moved to another holding or if they are going to be finished or stored. He says: “In any situation, it is important to understand why you are weaning, when you plan to do it and how to do it to achieve the best possible outcome.” Mr Adler says it is crucial spring-calving cows have the op- timum body condition score (BCS) to take them through win- ter and calve with a BCS of 2.5. Condition “If cows are currently in good condition and there is plenty of food on the ground, then leaving the calves with their mothers for an extra couple of weeks can support further growth of the calf and control the grass. “Weaning also allows the diet of the calf to change. Ideally, calves going on to a concentrate- based diet should be introduced to it at least two weeks prior to weaning, allowing their rumens to become conditioned to the new diet, decreasing the food changes and, therefore, reduc- ing growth checks at weaning.” If possible, Mr Adler says any stressful procedures should be carried out prior to weaning. “Castration and dehorning should be completed two weeks beforehand to allow wounds to heal and inflammation to subside. “Consideration should also be given to preconditioning vacci- nation before weaning. If there | 29 FRIDAY NOVEMBER 21 2014 WWW.FARMERSGUARDIAN.COM GENETICS Breeding for success PAGES 34-35 YOUNG BULLS Limousin herd refocuses PAGES 32-33 UK WAGYU New breed association PAGE 31 Plan weaning on suckler farms BEEF A 15-page Farmers Guardian special feature Edited by Katie Jones 01772 799 450 [email protected] belly at market, more relaxed in the ring and better able to cope with a new farm. If housing straight away, there will be less noise and better feed intakes. All of these factors should Considerations with the different weaning techniques Weaning technique Method Considerations Total separation Cows and calves separated. Calves remain Careful management needed to avoid stress where they were and cows moved a significant in calves and determined animals may break distance away down fences. Considered the most stressful way to wean calves Fence line separation Cows and calves separated by a strong fence so Less calf stress. Takes at least five days there can be nose to nose contact before cows are moved. If calves are not used to drinking from troughs leave them overflowing so calves hear water trickling. Creep weaning Creep gate allows calves to pass through into Minimal stress for the calves however lush pasture leaving their mothers during the day. requires significant preparation and Once calves are used to feeding away from the supervision cows close gate off Weaning nose flaps Insert nose flap into calves and keep calves Calves spend 25 per cent more time eating. with the cows. Four to seven days later 95 per cent fall in bawling and significantly remove calves from cows less pacing leads to more efficient and less stressful weaning Weaning is an ideal time to tackle issues such as worming and fluke management, says Mr Adler. 30 USING AI How AI can increase profits 36-37 CREEP RESEARCH Value of high protein feed 38 BEEF SOUTH WEST Coverage of the event 40-41 HOME-GROWN FEED Growth rates boosting gains 42-43 BLUE GREY COWS Traditional breed profitable is a history of respiratory dis- ease at weaning, allowing calves to build up immunity before the respiratory challenge helps the vaccine work better for increased prevention of disease. Fluke management “Worming and fluke manage- ment should be discussed with your farm vet, as weaning can be an ideal time to control some of these issues.” Mr Adler says the use of nose flaps for weaning is a concept which a client at Synergy Farm Health took from Canada. “Farmers using them report less stressful weaning, a de- crease in bawling and less disruption on-farm with happi- er and healthier calves who settle well after separation.” He says fitting nose flaps can be organised around TB testing, with the flap inserted on day one and removed on the day of reading. For farmers selling immedi- ately, calves are often fuller in the



Transcript of Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014

Page 1: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014

lead to a decrease in stress, mak-ing the calves more resilient torespiratory disease.

Late autumn is a time whenmany farmers will makedecisions about when towean the spring-calvingsuckler herd calves.

Andy Adler, director of Synergy Farm Health, says this decision may be based onwhether calves are going to mar-ket, are to be moved to anotherholding or if they are going to befinished or stored.

He says: “In any situation, it isimportant to understand whyyou are weaning, when you planto do it and how to do it to achievethe best possible outcome.”

Mr Adler says it is crucialspring-calving cows have the op-timum body condition score(BCS) to take them through win-ter and calve with a BCS of 2.5.

Condition“If cows are currently in goodcondition and there is plenty offood on the ground, then leavingthe calves with their mothers foran extra couple of weeks cansupport further growth of thecalf and control the grass.

“Weaning also allows the dietof the calf to change. Ideally,calves going on to a concentrate-based diet should be introducedto it at least two weeks prior toweaning, allowing their rumensto become conditioned to thenew diet, decreasing the foodchanges and, therefore, reduc-ing growth checks at weaning.”

If possible, Mr Adler says anystressful procedures should becarried out prior to weaning.

“Castration and dehorningshould be completed two weeksbeforehand to allow wounds to heal and inflammation to subside.

“Consideration should also begiven to preconditioning vacci-nation before weaning. If there


GENETICSBreeding forsuccessPAGES 34-35

YOUNG BULLSLimousin herdrefocusesPAGES 32-33

UK WAGYU New breedassociationPAGE 31

Plan weaning on suckler farms

BEEF A 15-page Farmers Guardian special feature

Edited by Katie Jones01772 799 [email protected]

belly at market, more relaxed inthe ring and better able to copewith a new farm. If housing

straight away, there will be lessnoise and better feed intakes.

All of these factors should

Considerations with the different weaning techniquesWeaning technique Method ConsiderationsTotal separation Cows and calves separated. Calves remain Careful management needed to avoid stress

where they were and cows moved a significant in calves and determined animals may break distance away down fences. Considered the most stressful

way to wean calvesFence line separation Cows and calves separated by a strong fence so Less calf stress. Takes at least five days

there can be nose to nose contact before cows are moved. If calves are notused to drinking from troughs leave them overflowing so calves hear water trickling.

Creep weaning Creep gate allows calves to pass through into Minimal stress for the calves however lush pasture leaving their mothers during the day. requires significant preparation and Once calves are used to feeding away from the supervision

cows close gate offWeaning nose flaps Insert nose flap into calves and keep calves Calves spend 25 per cent more time eating.

with the cows. Four to seven days later 95 per cent fall in bawling and significantly remove calves from cows less pacing leads to more efficient and

less stressful weaning

Weaning is an ideal time to tackle issues such as worming and fluke management, says Mr Adler.

30 USING AIHow AI can increase profits36-37 CREEP RESEARCHValue of high protein feed38 BEEF SOUTH WESTCoverage of the event 40-41 HOME-GROWN FEEDGrowth rates boosting gains42-43 BLUE GREY COWSTraditional breed profitable

is a history of respiratory dis-ease at weaning, allowing calvesto build up immunity before the respiratory challenge helpsthe vaccine work better for increased prevention of disease.

Fluke management“Worming and fluke manage-ment should be discussed withyour farm vet, as weaning can bean ideal time to control some ofthese issues.”

Mr Adler says the use of noseflaps for weaning is a conceptwhich a client at Synergy FarmHealth took from Canada.

“Farmers using them reportless stressful weaning, a de-crease in bawling and less disruption on-farm with happi-er and healthier calves who settle well after separation.”

He says fitting nose flaps can beorganised around TB testing, withthe flap inserted on day one andremoved on the day of reading.

For farmers selling immedi-ately, calves are often fuller in the

Page 2: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014

him to selectively breed cowsand produce a higher number ofquality calves as well as provid-ing access to top performingbulls which would not be afford-able as a stock bull.“I would need two stock bulls

on my cows and I would have topay at least £5,000 each for agood bull and probably doublefor the quality of bulls I use forAI,” he says. “With a stock bull, there is also

no guarantee what he is going toproduce until you see the calf.”AI bulls are selected from

visual assessment in the cata-logue, together with estimatedbreeding values. Initially, 10straws will be bought so MrMorris can assess the calves pro-duced and then a further 100will be bought if he is pleasedwith the outcome.

At present, selection has beenfocused around improving theterminal line, with all bulls cho-sen for good conformation andgrowth rates so they are in thetop 10 per cent for beef value. Ease of calving figures are

chosen to be ‘middle line’ so asto get a balance between easeand conformation. However,more emphasis is placed on thistrait when serving heifers.

Finish“One of the Limousin bulls whichhas produced some of the bestcalves is Cogent’s Wilodge Gold-card,” says Mr Morris. “He has gota Beef Value of +44, higher thanthe breed average of +22, and heis easy calving with good confor-mation so he ticks all the boxes.The calves have a good top lineand I expect them to grade U.”Most replacements are

bought-in as in-calf heifers, how-ever Mr Morris now plans to useAI to breed his own and driveimprovements in the maternal

line. This will also help protectthe herd from the potential ofbuying-in disease.“I want a three-quarter-bred

cow, rather than a half-bred,” hesays. “Milkiness is really impor-tant with three-quarter-bred cowsso I will look for a milk index inthe top 1 per cent, otherwise youhave to feed corn to get the milk.”Mr Morris says being good at

spotting visual signs of heat is akey part of getting the mostfrom AI. He watches out forsigns of oestrus twice a day –once at about 8am and againjust before it gets dark. When acow is in heat in the morning,she will be AI’d by the technician

the same day but if she is spot-ted in the afternoon, she will beserved the next day.For ease of handling, when

cows are at grass they are keptclose to the buildings until theyare in-calf. In some cases, a cowdue to be served may be taken inas part of a group to ease han-dling, but in general, Mr Morrissays handling is not a problem.“British Blue cows are quite

docile in nature so I can walkthem in easily. The cows are alsoused to me as I walk aroundthem regularly and do not use abike. When they come in I givethem a bit of hay and corn sothey get used to it,” he says.

Using artificial insemi-nation (AI) on his herdof 100 suckler cowshas allowed Shrop-shire farmer Tom

Morris to produce 10-15 per centmore top grading calves with asimilar increase in returns.“I have definitely seen a big

improvement and I am able toget the top prices when I sellstores,” he says. “It is the valueof the calf which is most impor-tant and there is the potential toimprove value by £200 a headusing AI.”The suckler cow herd at New

Earnstrey Park, Tugford, DittonPriors, is predominately BritishBlue cross Friesian with someLimousin cross Friesian andBlonde cross Friesian. The BritishBlue cross cows are served to aLimousin terminal sire with therest going to British Blues.All calves produced are sold as

seven-month-old stores to one local producer. To maintain thisrelationship, he works closelywith his buyer to ensure he is pro-viding exactly what is required.“I can go and look at the

cattle as they grow and get feed-back on how they perform,” hesays. “I also get all the gradinginformation when they are finished. This allows me tocrossmatch performance with

sires and use the bulls whichproduce calves with the topkilling out percentage.”His bulls generally finish be-

fore they reach 16 months of ageand heifers at 20-22 months.About 92 per cent grade U+ orU- with 5-6 per cent E and 2-3per cent R grades.

CarcaseU+ grades are worth 10p moreoff the base R4L price and 25pfor E grades, so selecting bullswhich throw this type of carcaseis of huge benefit to his buyerand will ensure repeat business.Mr Morris believes the ability

to experiment with a number ofsires is also one of the big ad-vantages of using AI. It allows



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With a stockbull, there is no guaranteewhat he isgoing toproduceTOM MORRIS

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Page 3: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014


Wagyu breed association launchedFor the first time in more than two decades, a new beef association has been launched in the UK. Katie Jones attended the launch.

� A Japanese beef cattlebreed – derived from nativeAsian cattle. ‘Wagyu’ refers toall Japanese beef cattle, where‘Wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’means cow� Originally draft animals used inagriculture selected for theirphysical endurance. Thisselection favoured animals withmore intra-muscular fat cells –‘marbling’ – which provided areadily available energy source� Horned breed and the cattleare either black or red in colour� Health experts havediscovered the mono-unsaturated to saturated fatratio is higher in Wagyu than inother beef and the saturated fat

contained in Wagyu is different.Forty percent is in a versioncalled stearic acid, which isregarded as having a minimalimpact in raising cholesterollevels. The profile of marbledWagyu beef is said to be morebeneficial and better for tohuman health� Wagyu is also higher in a typeof fatty acid called conjugatedlinoleic acid (CLA). Wagyu beefcontain the highest amount ofCLA per gram of any foodstuff –about 30 per cent more thanother beef breeds – due tohigher linoleic acid levels. Foodswhich are naturally high in CLAhave fewer negative healtheffects

What are Wagyu?

� Director and chairman:Mike Tucker�Directors: Jim Bloom, partnerin the Yorkshire WagyuCompany; Martine Chapman,director of Highland Wagyu withhusband Mohsin Altajir; PearceHughes, Wagyu breeder in North

Wales; Jonathan Shepherd,partner in the Yorkshire WagyuCompany� Company secretary:Richard Saunders� Fees: A one-off registrationfee of £200, and then an annual£100 fee

The Wagyu Breeders Association

With goals of support-ing the growingnumber of beeffarmers interestedin Wagyu, and se-

curing the future integrity of thebreed and its product, a group ofproducers have formed theWagyu Breeders Association(WBA).

The association, which itsboard of trustees say has been‘several’ years in the making, isintended to be the first step to-wards establishing a Defra-ap-proved British Wagyu Breed Society with charitable status.

Mike Tucker, chairman and oneof the directors of the association,speaking at the official launch held in Tetbury, Gloucestershire,said the team of directors wouldwork towards formulating astrategic plan for the associationover the next few months, with a view to having this available

to members in spring next year.He said: “The principle upon

which the WBA is founded is thepromotion of agriculture for thepublic benefit by encouraging,promoting and improving thebreeding of Wagyu cattle in theUnited Kingdom of Great Britainand Northern Ireland.”

ResearchMr Tucker, who himself has asmall herd of Wagyu cattle, saidthe association would be workingto find the best knowledge and re-search and development workfrom around the world, to helpsupport UK beef producers al-ready involved in the breed, orwanting to become involved. Inparticular Mr Tucker said theywould draw on the expertise ofWagyu breeders in Australia tofurther the UK offering.

However he assured those at-tending the launch, the associa-

tion did not want to underminethe value of the breed. “Wagyubeef produces a quality product,and we have got to achieve premi-um prices for it.”

He said the WBA sought to‘protect the integrity of the mar-keting of its members’ uniqueWagyu beef’. He said this would bedone by insisting all meat is certi-

fied ‘British Wagyu’. Only animalswhich have undergone DNAparentage verification under theauspices of the WBA, confirmingthey are sired by a registered Fullblood Wagyu bull, will be eli-gible for the Wagyu ‘BlackGold’brand, which was also on displayat the launch.

He said the marbling score,

meat and fat colour, eye musclearea, texture and firmness may allbe assessed. “In due course, it isanticipated WBA will roll out agrading system using elements ofthe AusMeat and/or Japanese sys-tem as a base.”

While there are no definiteplans for how cattle registrationswill be handled by the association

in the future, the board of direc-tors suggested they would be using the Australian-based Breed-plan as its genetic evaluation system, which is in-line with sev-eral other UK breed societies.

According to British CattleMovement Service (BCMS) data,2,691 Wagyu-sired calves wereborn in the UK last year.

Wagyu is a Japanese breed derived from Asian cattle. PICTURE: Ian Tonks

Page 4: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014



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Selling about 20 high index young bulls annually has become a key part of Will and Jackie Forrester’s pure-bred Limousinbusiness at Whitchurch, Shropshire. Simon Wragg reports.

Afall in demand for sen-ior pedigree bulls hasfocused attention onthe selection of youngbulls at the Twemlows

herd, explains Will Forrester.He says: “We see more top-

end suckler herds wanting bullsat 18-22 months old through thespring sales and have alteredour calving pattern accordingly.“Buyers often go for a bull

which reflects what they want toproduce in their own cattle –especially those looking to selluniform groups of suckledcalves or stores. Our aim is to of-fer bulls which demonstrate po-tential for growth, rather thanbeing a showman’s animal.”In a selection process which

the Forresters say has to be ruth-less due to market economics,the ‘near misses’ – which movefrom breeding to finishing pensdestined for Market Draytonauction or abattoir group ABP –demonstrate the growth poten-tial of the current candidates. “To give an example, we

recently sent off one which waspulled out for an ankle defect.“At 12 months and 10 days old

it weighed 694kg. Abattoirrecords suggest it will kill out at66 per cent and, allowing for a40kg birth weight, it will haveachieved 1.15kg per day carcasegrowth from birth to slaughter. “That works out at 1.74kg daily

liveweight gain – not accounting

for the 30kg it possibly lost dur-ing transport and stalling – andgrade U, possibly E, on the hook.”

Finished cattleClawing back expenses throughsales in the prime ring for fin-ished cattle helps absorb the costof producing breeding bulls, hesays. “Out of a year’s group of 45,about 20 will be good enough for

the breeding sales. Feeding bullsneed to be selected early andmarketed at 13-15 months old tobe economic.”Recent breeding sales include

Twemlows Harrier, a Clough-head Ernie son, which sold for5,000gns for use on a sucklerherd having stood reservechampion at a breed society saleat Welshpool in May 2014. Twemlows Idol, a Wilodge

Fastrack son, sold for 6,000gnsthrough the Carlisle ring to adairy farmer producing Friesiancross suckler replacements inOctober.To date Twemlows Torville, a

2002-born Kype Ramsay son,remains the herd’s top seller,

making 9,000gns to go to workon a Northumberland sucklerherd. Another achievement wasthe 2001-born Twemlows Saxwhich sold to Genus’ Al stud.

Maiden heifers“Crossing bulls are our corner-stone – if we rear a breeders’ bullthen it is a bonus,” says Mr Forrester.The 110-cow herd comes from

foundation stock bought in themid-1990s, starting with twoempty maiden heifers fromJohn and Neil Vance’s Winning-ton herd. “These were followed by oth-

ers from the dispersal of theHolly herd and sales of stock

from Hopehaven, Springsett,Rachels and Tanant. While BSEwas a setback for the industry asa whole, looking back it allowedus to buy good genetics at affordable prices,” explains MrForrester.The female side of Twemlows

has been closed for almost a decadeto protect its high health status. Theherd adheres to the Limousin So-ciety’s health scheme, through theSRUC premium cattle health pro-gramme, with accreditation forJohne's disease and bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD). All cattle are sampled for infectious bovinerhinotracheitis (IBR) and vaccinat-ed for BVD and leptospirosis. “We see it as the way forward.

At the end of the day, buyers areinvesting in our genetics and wewant to provide stock which willstand the test of time.” For these reasons, artificial

insemination (AI) is used widelyto complement service bullsTwemlows Dynamite and Twem-lows Galaxy. Current AI sires include Wilodge Vantastic, Ann-side Flint, Haltcliffe Vermont,Crossdykes Goliath and Sympahelping drive genetic progress. “AI requires more manage-

ment time; you are using youreyes rather than relying on astock bull. But it is a more af-fordable route for us. The mostdesirable bulls at society sales

� 110 cow herd, plus about160 followers� Split calving – autumnblock for spring bull sales� Focus on younger bulls;aiming to sell 20 annually� Bulls reared on cereal-based proprietary ration� Root crops introduced toextend grazing for cows� Welshpool, Brecon andCarlisle Society sales used� Prime bulls and heifer toMarket Drayton mart/ABP

Twemlows herd

Jackie and Will Forrester are focusing on selling crossing bulls.

Crossing bullsare ourcornerstone –if we rear abreeders’ bull then it is a bonusWILL FORRESTER

PICTURES: Marcello Garbagnoli

Six-year-old Twemlows Dynamite is one of two stock bulls.The Twemlows herd eats root crops, such as stubble turnips, to extend the grazing period.

Young bulls focusfor pedigree herd

Page 5: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014


have prices well outside ourpocket where you have someonebuying with the specific inten-tion of putting it to stud.”Heifers selected for AI are syn-

chronised to calve early in theautumn block, allowing time toget back in-calf without fallingout of the eight-week pattern. “We have also looked at em-

bryo transfer in the past but, forus, the results have been unpre-dictable and the costs, prohibi-tive. We also do not like the ideaof buying in recipients as it risksundermining the health status,”he explains.

Calving easeBreed index figures for youngbulls feature heavily in sales andthe Forresters began recordingperformance data in 1996. Notesare made on calving ease atbirth and body weight is record-ed every 100 days. “I think buyers can mistaken-

ly think there is little more thanfeeding to get young bulls readyfor a sale,” says Mrs Forrester. “Halter training and prepara-

tion takes up time. We couldprobably run 160-170 commer-cial cows on the same staff andworkload as a comparison.”The work preparing bulls of-

fered for sale at 800-1000kgliveweight, having been rearedon a cereal-based proprietarybull ration, has fallen into herlap more than ever this autumnas Mr Forrester suffered a boutof pneumonia.Staffing at the 145-hectare

(360-acre) mixed farm – which

has 52ha (130 acres) of cerealsand winter roots, plus the 120-ewe Doonguile flock of Texels – includes herdsman JonathanLunn and day-release studentRob Morris from ReaseheathCollege.There is little time for

summer shows, although theForresters see the potential forpromoting their stock. Success-es in the North West Midlandsand North Wales LimousinBreeders’ Club competitionshelps to promote the Twemlowsherd, with repeat buyers oftenbuying direct off-farm.“Promotion is important. Bull

buyers may not come back for fiveor even 10 years but they need tobe aware you are still here whenthey come to replace the bull yousold them last time,” says Mrs Forrester, who now runs theTwemlows Facebook page.Society sales at Welshpool

and Brecon are key diary dates,attracting buyers from strongsuckler herd areas. Newark andCarlisle also feature on the salesplan – the latter requiring a very different style of bull, Mr Forrester says.“At all sales we aim to have a

young bull which is at least200kg over the minimum breedrecommendation for its age.This is important as they are of-fered in age order in classes ofabout 15; you need to stand outand demonstrate the potentialfor growth.“More recently we have also

started promoting heifers. Anyheifers not deemed to be breed-

ing quality spend a second sum-mer at grass before coming in-doors to be finished for the localprimestock auction ring in therun up to Christmas.”With little opportunity to ex-

pand, there is a continued drive tolook at reducing operating costs.This year, some females graze aportion of 27ha (67 acres) of stub-ble turnips and 3.5 hectares (nineacres) of kale sown to extend thegrazing season, helping to save onhousing costs such as straw, saysMr Forrester. “We sell 90 per cent of the ce-

reals grown on-farm but use 200acres worth of straw ourselves.“Like all beef businesses we

are looking to keep a lid on costswhich is why we have movedaway from bringing on seniorbulls – the differential in saleprice often does not warrant theextra keep.

Grazers“Root crops are new for us but Ithink there is something to belearned from extended grazersin the dairy sector who use themwidely.”Before taking on the farm 22

years ago, both the Forresterscame from local farming back-grounds.“Jackie’s family were beef,

sheep and arable farmers atMarket Drayton and my familyhad a dairy herd at Lilleshall. “We used Limousin on the

cows and always had a goodtrade for the offspring which iswhere I first saw the breed’s po-tential,” says Mr Forrester.

Left to right: A Wilodge Fastrack son destined for the breed sale at Welshpool, an AmpertaineCommander son and a Twemlows Dynamite son, both destined for sale at Brecon.

Any heifers not deemed breeding quality are housed to be finished for primestock auctions.

Page 6: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014



Charolais cattle havebeen at Gretna Housesince the late 1960s,when Alasdair Hous-ton’s father Adair

became one of the first producersto import the breed to the UK.Despite the family’s devotion

to the 60 Charolais females, thehome farm also supports a herdof about 30 Aberdeen-Anguscows.Alasdair says: “About 12

months after my father had imported four Charolais heifers,their combined worth was equalto half of the value of the farm.

Commitment“In those early days, the breed society would not allow importedcattle to be sold on before a settime period had elapsed. Thiswas a good idea and ensured only

Alasdair Houston has a range of business interests, but he is particularly proud of his pedigree cattle enterprise,which has won a breed society award for the highest level of genetic advancement. Wendy Short reports.

Devotion to Charolaisand Aberdeen-Angus

breeders with a strong commit-ment to the breed could becomeinvolved.”Sadly, all the cattle from the

original Charolais herd wereculled during the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001, but anumber of embryos remained in storage and these were implanted into recipients.Alasdair tracked down some

females sired by bulls he had pre-viously bred and sold, as well asbuying from elite herds whosetype of cattle he admired. TheAberdeen-Angus herd was set upin 2010.“Before foot-and-mouth, I also

had a herd of pedigree Simmen-tals. If I had held Simmental embryos in storage after the disease outbreak, I would havestarted it up again,” he says.“But I decided to concentrate

on one breed at a time in orderto increase selection pressureand the rate of genetic progress.“It makes sense to me to have

two different breeds, as it expands the number of potentialoutlets. I chose the Aberdeen-Angus due to its strong marketbranding and the fact breedershad achieved a tremendous levelof improvement over the previ-ous decade.“At one point, I would not have

wanted an Angus, even if it hadbeen given to me. But the pres-ent day animal can deliver highperformance without sacrificinggood fleshing and ease of calving.”Despite the Aberdeen-Angus

herd being so newly formed, ithas already produced two note-worthy sires. A half share inGretnahouse Blacksmith wassold in 2013 for a five-figure sumto breeders Tom and WendyArnott, Kelso.The bull, which has Blelack

bloodlines, had been showntwice, winning a championshipat Dumfries and the male cham-pionship award at the breed society’s winter national showand sale in 2013. His offspringlook really promising and semenwill be coming on to the marketsoon, says Mr Houston.Later the same year, Gretna-

house Lord Hefty M549 was soldfor £15,000 to the Hurn family,

who run a pedigree herd in Nor-folk, after winning the yearlingchampionship at the breed’s win-ter national show at Agri Expo.

ResultsEmbryo transfer (ET) is used extensively on both herds and super-ovulation, which producesa high number of viable eggs, hasproduced some pleasing results.The Gretnahouse Charolais

I do not want acow whichlooks like awrestler, yetneither do Iwant a bullwhich looks likea ballet dancerALASDAIR HOUSTON

Alasdair Houston runs the 505-hectare (1,250-acre) Gretna Estate.

Page 7: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014









%!%) .() &,-,.

cattle have recently won a breed society award for the herd whichhas made the highest level of genetic progress over the past 12 months.

Alasdair says: “ET has playeda significant role in imp-roving the herds, but it is an unforgiving process and needscareful management to achieve success.

Control“I prefer to carry out the flush-ing and implantation procedureswhile the cattle are housed, as itallows greater control over theenvironment and management

of both the recipient and thedonor cow.

“At present, synchronisedheats are detected by observa-tion, but I am enthusiastic aboutsome of the new developments,such as ankle bracelets whichrecord activity levels.

“I am also looking into the useof vaginal probes, which performthe same function and can giveadvance notice of the onset ofcalving, via text message to a mobile phone.”

It is Alasdair’s policy to selectbulls from strong cow familieswhich consistently out-performthe rest of the herd. This is

the key to maximising genetic gain, he says. Visual assessment,estimated breeding values andhealth status are also used as selection tools.

PerformanceHe says: “It is perfectly possibleto produce a one-off, crackingbull out of a cow from an unex-ceptional family. However, if shehas no real depth of perform-ance in her background, the likelihood of her son going on tosire quality cattle with consistentpredictability is greatly reduced.

“My ideal cow has an above-average-sized frame, with a feminine head, broad muzzleand kind eye. Length of spine isalso important, as this deter-mines the yield of high valuecuts. Cows should also be milkyand have good locomotion.

“A bull should look alert, witha bright eye, large ears and abroad muzzle. The neck shouldrun into the shoulder smoothlyand it should also have a goodlength of spine and masculinemuscularity. � I do not want a cowwhich looks like a wrestler, yetneither do I want a bull whichlooks like a ballet dancer.”

Alasdair considers the recentdevelopments in genomics anexciting prospect.

He says: “Genomics is still inits infancy, so it may be sometime before we move away fromstandard performance record-

ing. But I am sure it will becomemore significant over the nextcouple of decades – it is a hugepotential leap forward and Ithink as farmers, we should embrace new technology.”

Alasdair says members of thebreed society are working hardto continue to reduce gestationlength and improve calving ease.

“Gestation length is a geneti-cally-programmed trait and

producers no longer have to putup with bulls which go way overtime.

“I actively select for short gestation and bulls from themost recent crop have figures of about 285-288 days, when mated with pure-bred cows.

“A range of traits must be taken into account when we arechoosing breeding stock, as single trait selection can lead

breeders down a narrow corri-dor. However, we must neverlose sight of what I consider to be one of the most important elements – calving ease.

“Commercial breeders req-uire a live calf which has beenborn with as little intervention aspossible; this is their priority andtherefore the pedigree sectoralso needs to focus on this aspect.”

� Alasdair Houston runs theGretna Estate, which includesthe village of Gretna Green. Ithas been in his family since 1885and its ‘Famous Blacksmith’sShop’ has hosted manythousands of weddings in its250-year history� The estate has two farms –one close to Gretna Green andthe other 85 miles away inBerwick-upon-Tweed� The total area farmed is 505hectares (1,250 acres), whichincludes malting barley and highvalue vegetable crops, withmaize grown on contract forlocal dairy farmers

� Herds are split into spring- andautumn-calving groups, withmost Aberdeen-Angus femalescalved in spring, via artificialinsemination and natural servicefrom proven, high estimatedbreeding value bulls� Heifers are calved at twoyears old in the Aberdeen-Angusherd and less than two-and-a-half years old in the Charolaisherd� Cattle are performance-recorded using the Breedplancomputer program� Both herds have high healthstatus in the SAC PremiumHealth scheme

Gretna Estate

Herds are split into spring- and autumn-calving groups, with embryo transfer used extensively.Autumn-calving Aberdeen-Angus cattle with a two- to three-week-old calf. PICTURES: John Eveson

Most heifers in the Gretna Estate’s Aberdeen-Angus herd are calved at two years old.

Page 8: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014



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High protein creep can help margins

The benefits of feedingcreep to suckledcalves are well recog-nised, with improvedgrowth rates, efficient

feed conversion and fewergrowth checks at weaning. 

David Thornton, Rumenco’stechnical manager says: “How-ever, it is all about margins andthey can potentially be improvedby varying the formulation of the creep.

“There is a scarcity of informa-

tion on the effect of different for-mulations of creep feed for suck-led calves and the objective of thisexperiment was to evaluate 13 percent versus 16 per cent crude protein (CP) creep feeds with autumn-born suckled calves.

“Research into the perform-ance and financial benefits ofcreep feeding suckler calves – inparticular, the value of includinghigher protein levels – is reallyvaluable to ensure up-to-date in-formation is available which beef

farmers can draw upon to helpthem benchmark.”

Simon Marsh, principle lec-turer at Harper Adams Univer-sity, undertook one such trialthis year with James Evans, whoruns a herd of 130 pedigree Sta-biliser autumn-calving sucklercows on his farm near BishopsCastle, Shropshire.

Mr Evans also runs a herd of180 Stabiliser spring-calving cowsin a contract farming agreementwith another farmer. His target isto finish the bulls by 14 months,selling heifers for breeding.

During the study, 20 bulls and18 heifer calves were fed one ofthe two creep formulations overa four-month period prior toturnout. The calves were offeredad-lib creep from 60 days of age.

ProteinThe creep feed was based onrolled barley, sugar beet feed,molasses and minerals with theCP levels adjusted by increasingthe quantity of protein supple-ment, in this instance PromolNatural, in the ration.

The parameters measured inthe trial were calf body weight,cow liveweight and body condi-tion scoring at the beginningand end of the trial. Dailyliveweight gain (DLWG) andfeed conversion ratio weremeasured as performance parameters and the data was independently analysed to see ifthe results were significant.

Mr Marsh says the trial results highlighted excellentoverall calf growth rates.

“Calves averaged 1.51kgDLWG from birth to weaning.Considering the Eblex averageDLWG for lowland sucklerherds is 1.11kg, Mr Evans’ calvesdemonstrated performance wellabove industry average,” saysMr Marsh.

“Another efficiency perform-ance benchmark for producersis to achieve a 200-day calfweight which is 50 per cent ofthe total cow liveweight. Again,data recorded during the trialproved Mr Evans’ calves ex-ceeded this parameter.

“The calves fed a 13 per centCP creep delivered a 200-dayweight of 51.6 per cent, while thecalves on the 16 per cent CPcreep demonstrated 57.5 percent of the total cow liveweight.

“This is especially impressiveconsidering Mr Evans’ herd ismade up of Stabilisers, whichare a maternal breed type. Italso further reiterates the valueof feeding a high protein creepto suckler calves.”

This trial, Mr Marsh says, high-lights important key differencesbetween rearing heifer and bullcalves. Feeding the higher, 16 percent CP creep to bull calvesshowed a significant improve-ment in DLWG by 0.27kg.

He says: “The weaningweights for the bulls on this dietwere also 36kg higher com-pared to those on the 13 per centCP creep.

“However, feeding the heifercalves 16 per cent CP creepshowed no significant effects onperformance. This information

� Calves fed the 16 per centCP creep showed significantimprovements in DLWG andweaning weights� Bull calves fed the 16 percent CP creep demonstratedsignificant improvements ingrowth rates whereas heifercalves did not� All calves fed the 16 percent CP creep increasedtheir net margin by £9.60

Key findings

The net marginincrease for all calves fedthe 16 per centCP creep was£9.60 per calfSIMON MARSH

New research on feed supplements has suggested feeding a higher percentage of crude protein in creep diets can have apositive impact on growth rates, doing so without negatively affecting margins. Farmers Guardian reports on the studies.

James Evans’ Stabiliser herd, Shropshire, took part in the trial.

Page 9: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014


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could impact feeding decisionson-farm.”

The final evaluation of the tri-al assessed the creep costsagainst the output, the value ofthe weaned calves.

MarginThere was a £56 difference between the input costs of the 13per cent CP creep and the 16 percent CP creep rations, and intakes were higher for calves on16 per cent CP rations.

“Despite this higher inputcost, the net margin increase forall calves fed the 16 per cent CPcreep was £9.60 per calf afterthe cost of creep was taken intoconsideration. 

“Raising the CP levels in thecreep from 13 per cent to 16 percent had a more dramatic effecton the performance of the bullcalves, with an increase on the

bottom line per bull of £57.95,”says Mr Marsh.

“Again, this is where feedingbull calves resulted in a differentoutcome to the heifer calves.

“Overall, the trial highlightedthe benefits of ensuring ad-lib

access to a high quality, high CPcreep feed prior to weaning. Calfperformance improved and, despite the increased intake, itwas proven there was a positiveimpact on the bottom line,” saysMr Marsh.

Simon Marsh believes a 16 per cent CP feed can boost DLWG.

Although the 16 per cent CP feed cost more to produce, margins increased by almost £10 per calf.

Dealing with pneumoniaand respiratory diseaseBOVINE respiratory diseasecauses significant financial losses due to reduced produc-tivity, treatment costs and animal losses, experts say.

Franz Brulisauer, veterinaryinspection officer with SAC Con-sulting, says disease outbreaksimpact on animal welfare, andtreatment adds to the develop-ment of antimicrobial resistancewhich, in turn, has public healthimplications.

Mr Brulisauer says: “Thebovine respiratory disease(BRD) complex is a prime exam-ple for multi-factorial diseases.

“Typically, a range of environ-mental factors and pathogenswork together to cause pneumo-nia. An injury causes pulmonarydamage which is then exacer-bated by bacterial infection.”

He adds predisposing factorsinclude poor air quality, highstress levels, viral infections orinfestation with lungworms. En-vironmental factors, such ashusbandry and management,typically play a crucial role inhow severe the consequences ofan infection become.

“Vaccination is a reliable andcost-effective way to protect an-imals from the common respi-ratory pathogens. Antimicrobialtreatment must be the last lineof defence against respiratorydisease. Where antibiotics be-come a routine intervention, theproduction system needs to bethoroughly reviewed.”

DiagnosisEarly signs of respiratory disease might be subtle and unspecific, such as a reductionin feed intake and an increase inbody temperature. By the timeindividuals are identified to be

ill, Mr Brulisauer says a consid-erable percentage of the cohortanimals will be going throughthe early phase of disease.

“Direct tests, for which nasalswabs or lung fluids are needed,to look for the presence ofpathogens are useful during theacute phase of the disease.

“Serological tests help to investigate an outbreak in its af-termath. Antimicrobial sensitiv-ity reports help tailor antibioticinterventions, in particular whenmultiple animals are treated.

Mr Brulisauer reminds farm-ers the emphasis must be on pre-vention rather than treatment.

� Mannheimia haemolytica,pasteurella multocida andhistophilus somni� These bacteria are found inthe upper respiratory tract ofhealthy animals where theycause no harm� However, if allowed, theseorganisms will establish

themselves in the lowerrespiratory tract which willlead to severe tissue damage� Mycoplasma can causesevere pneumonia in calves inthe absence of otherrespiratory pathogens and isfrequently associated withchronic respiratory disease

Bacteria associated with pneumonia

Page 10: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014



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Beef South West, held at Westpoint, Exeter,last week included a primestock show and aspeakers corner. Jane Brown reports.

Devon farmer andbutcher Michael Alford celebrated aclean sweep at BeefSouth West last week,

claiming both the primestockchampion and reserve prizes.Shown by Melanie Alford, the16-month-old British Blue crossLimousin heifer PokerHontustook top spot under judge HughDunlop. “We have had a tremendousshow of cattle – they were well fedand well brought out,” said MrDunlop. “But an overall champi-on must have meat in all the rightplaces as well as that little bit

extra; character and the ability towalk well, and my champion hasall of that.”In reserve was Alford ShowTeam’s 13-month-old Limousincross steer, Poker Prince. Both animals had enjoyed previous suc-cess at Countryside Live in York-shire, where PokerHontus was reserve supreme champion and

Poker Prince was reserve champi-on steer sired by a Limousin.The Alfords also had success inthe pedigree classes, with their 10-month-old Limousin calf Fox-hillfarm Justtheone claiming thechampion calf position. Sired byLoosebeare Fantastic, it is out ofBankdale Alice.In reserve was E.A. and M.C.Jones, Cullompton, Devon, withthe seven-month-old Aberdeen-Angus bull calf Rull Equity P171.

Baby beefIn the baby beef classes, it wasonce again the Alford Show Teamwhich triumphed, with nine-month-old Limousin cross heiferPokerlicious taking the championspot.Runner-up was R. Kingston,Bridgwater, Somerset, with aneight-month-old Limousin crosssteer, Sole Power.Danny Wyllie, Stafford, judged

the young bull of the year classes,picking the Charolais BalbithanInkleberry, from Andrew andBeth White, Worth Matraver,Dorset, and shown by Jane Haw,as his overall champion. Sired by Wesley Furnish andout of Balbithan Cherry, this 17-month old bull was male champi-on at the Royal Berkshire Showand second in class at the Nation-al Charolais Show in July.In second place was StonegroveLivestock’s Devon bull StonegroveOsprey. Shown by Richard Dorrellfrom Stonehill, Worcester, this 19-month-old bull is by BollowallElgar and out of StonegroveSnowdrop 9. After a string of suc-cesses at county shows this year, itwill remain in the herd for theforeseeable future.Bred and fed champion went to an 18-month-old Limousincross heifer, Flaming Star, fromRichard Wright, Somerton, Som-erset.In reserve, from Honiton, Devon, was Lin Pidsley’s 22-month-old Limousin crosssteer Jackpot.

ResultsPrimestock (Judge, H. Dunlop, Ayrshire)Supreme, Alford Show Team, PokerHontus(Limousin cross); reserve, Alford Show Team,Poker Prince (Limousin cross).Pedigree (H. Dunlop) Sup., Alford Show Team,Foxhillfarm Justtheone (Limousin); res., E.A. andM.C. Jones, Rull Equity P171 (Aberdeen-Angus).Baby beef (H. Dunlop) Sup., Alford Show Team,Pokerlicious (Limousin cross); res., R. Kingston,Sole Power (Limousin cross).Young bull (D. Wyllie, Stafford) Sup., A. and B.White, Balbithan Inkleberry (Charolais); res.,Stonegrove Livestock, Stonegrove Osprey(Devon).

Alford show teamdominatesat BeefSouth West

Reserve champion calf, Rull Equity P171, from E.A. and M.C. Jones.

Primestock champion, Limousin cross PokerHontus, fromAlford Show Team, Devon. PICTURES: Anthony Mosley

Baby beef champion, Pokerlicious, from the Alford Show Team.

Champion calf Foxhillfarm Justtheone, from the Alford Show Team.


To view more and to buy photos fromthis and other shows and sales, visit

Page 11: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014


Every decision MichaelStrother makes isgeared towards pro-ducing beef in the mostcost-effective, simple

way possible through the use ofhome-grown cereals and carefulgenetic selection.Regularly weighing cattle

and feed intakes allows feed conversion rates to be continu-ously monitored, which helps inthe selection of replacements andenables any drop in performanceto be picked up early.Balancing cereals with appro-

priately-formulated concentratealso helps unlock the full poten-tial of home-grown barley in themost economic way possible.Mr Strother runs 70 commer-

cial spring-calving Limousincross, British Blue cross and Aberdeen-Angus cross sucklercows and seven pedigree Limou-sins with his wife Louise at Fowberry Moor Farm, Northum-berland. The commercials are

� 209 days weaning to finish� 1.6kg/head/day dailyliveweight gain� 9.58kg home mixintake/head/day� £1.16/head/day marginover feed� £242.44 total margin/head� 606kg finish weight atabout 13-14 months old� Mostly U, some R and Egrades

Performancefrom weaning to finish

1Do not over-process cereals,as the more you process, themore starch produced whichcan lead to acidosis

2Provide ad-lib barley strawor wheat straw or

incorporate sugar beet pulp ifavailable – this will provide goodlevels of digestible fibre

3Ensure accurate mixing ofconcentrate/balancer and

remember to use concentratesto make up the total mix to onetonne rather than adding to onetonne, otherwise total proteinlevels could be reduced to lessthan required

4Ensure concentratescontain a good mix of slow,

medium and fast proteins,unless straights are already on-farm, using a ready-made

concentrate can work out morecost-effective

5Assess forage and cerealquality so you can select the

appropriate concentrate withthe correct levels of starch andprotein

6Provide clean water as dirtywater harbours bacteria

and reduces water and feedintakes

Kenny McDonald’s ‘golden rules’ when feeding cereals

Ration balance, simplicity and monitoring underpin the beef system run by Northumberland producer Michael Strotherand provide some valuable lessons for those looking to make more from cereals this winter. Farmers Guardian reports.

Gaining maximum effectfrom home-grown cereals

The aim is tofinish cattle atas big a weightas quickly aspossible, whilecontrolling costMICHAEL STROTHER

artificially inseminated withBritish Blue, Limousin, Aberdeen-Angus or Charolais semen and allcalves are finished on-farm.“The aim is to finish cattle at as

big a weight possible and as quick-ly as possible, while controllingcost. But the final weight is amoveable feast depending onwhat the abattoir requires,” saysMr Strother, who regularly com-pares feed costs and beef pricesto assess the most effective wayto finish cattle.To optimise growth rates, Mr

Strother works closely with MoleAgriculture’s beef and sheep specialist Kenny McDonald.Mr McDonald says: “The aim

is to formulate a ration whichmakes the most of home-growncereals and creates an optimumbalance between costs and cattleperformance.”The ration is made up home-

grown barley which is milled andmixed with a 34 per cent proteinconcentrate on-farm and, at cer-

tain times of the year, sugar beetis added. The same ingredientsare used across all stock, with ratios varied to deliver the cor-rect level of protein and starch atdifferent stages. Mr McDonaldsays this is the best way to getmore from cereals.He says: “When cereals look

good value, there is a tendency toovercomplicate the home mix byusing several different by-prod-ucts or straights and mixing on-farm. But this can lead to expensive ingredients on-farmwhich go off, lose feed value, orneed a lot of capital outlay.

Bespoke ration“By purchasing a ready-madeconcentrate and adjusting per-centage inclusion, it is possible to create a bespoke ration for anumber of different classes ofstock.”The aim of a concentrate or

balancer is to release energy andprotein at different times of the

day so the animal can convertfeed as efficiently as possible,while maintaining a stable rumenpH. The protein concentrate includes rape, soya, urea, wheatfeed and dark grain along with vitamins, minerals and live yeast.At Fowberry Moor Farm, cows

calve in spring with calves rec-eiving creep while at grass alongwith straw or haylage. Calves arebrought inside at weaning and receive the same diet, excludinggrazed 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 andad-lib haylage.Around November, the aim is

to provide a 16 per cent proteinmix of 70 per cent crushed bar-ley, 5 per cent sugar beet, 25 percent of the concentrate and yeast.Beet pulp will be dropped outaround Christmas.Heifers then remain on a 16

per cent diet through to finish.Bulls have their concentrate inclusion gradually droppedfrom the New Year to bring pro-tein levels down to 12-13 per centaround finishing.The amount of feed provided

to bulls is monitored using weighcells on the forklift and by count-ing bags fed to heifers.Intakes are then compared to

cattle weights which are record-ed monthly from weaning. Thisis 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 theability to quickly see where thingsare going wrong.”Now the ration is where he

wants it, Mr Strother is focusingon cattle genetics and adopts astrict 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 inmilking ability and ease of calv-ing. Two hundred and 400 dayweights are still a key focus withestimated breeding values usedto select sires in the top 5 per centfor beef value.Mr Strother, who has also

started breeding his own pedi-gree black Limousin bulls on theherd, says: “I link the weight gainfigures with the calf’s dam andsire to track performance. If thecalf is heavier, I am more likely toretain any related stock.”

Michael Strother is focusing on improving cattle genetics through strict culling and artificial insemination.

Page 12: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014




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With 350 beefpassing throughthe system at Ty-Draw Farm everyyear, a small drop

in growth rates can make the

difference between a tidy prof-it and hefty financial loss.Farming with his son, Math-

ew, on 255 upland hectares (630acres) overlooking the Dee Estuary and Liverpool, David

Using home-grownfeeds to maximisedaily growth rates

Winter feeding is in full flow on a beef and sheep unit Ty-Draw Farm, Llanasa, Flintshire, where David Roberts says the difference betweengetting it right and getting it wrong can lose him about 500g of liveweight gain per head every day. Farmers Guardian reports.

Roberts has fine-tuned feedingand management to dovetail thesheep and beef enterprises perfectly together.At the heart of the tenanted

farm is 32ha (80 acres) ownedby the Roberts family and it is onthis land which David built whathas become one of the farm’sgreatest assets.David says: “We lost the lamb-

ing shed from our tenancy in2009 and had to decide how wewould manage without it.”Deciding a lambing shed was

essential for the 1,200 Texelcross ewes, a 49 by 23-metre(160 by 75 feet) building wasbuilt the same year.

InvestmentHowever, although the shed’sprimary purpose was to houseewes during lambing, Davidknew he could not justify this investment for such a short period of use.“It was when we put up the

lambing shed we realised wehad to go into cattle as we knewwe would have to make betteruse of the building,” he says.Today, the farm rears all lambs

from the main flock and buys

900 more store lambs every October for finishing betweenFebruary and April, while thebeef side of the business seesstores bought at different stagesand finished both indoors andoutdoors throughout the year.“The ewes come in during the

third week of January, ready tostart lambing in mid-February,”says David. “So, if the cattlewhich are in the shed beforethem are not performing, thenthe whole system goes to pot.”Preventing the system from

going ‘to pot’ is the tried-and-tested cattle ration which en-sures maximum daily liveweightgain of up to 1.7kg/head.“If we get the ration wrong we

can drop from 1.7kg back to 1kgwhich, in the past, has been be-cause of insufficient starch andtoo much protein,” he says.However, he has now appoint-

ed the services of a sheep andbeef nutritionist who radicallyreformulated the ration to outstanding effect.Analysing all of the farm’s for-

ages as part of the process, hethen went about reformulatingthe total mixed ration.“He told us to increase intakes

of crimped barley from about2kg up to 6kg per head in the fin-ishing ration and to cut ourblend back to 1.5kg,” says David. “Wholecrop wheat was also

cut from 23-18kg and the differ-ence in performance has beenstartling since the change.”

With daily liveweight gain ris-ing from about 1kg/head to anoverall 1.4kg/head for the entirerearing and finishing period,David says he will be stickingclosely to the new formulation.With such a heavy reliance on

crimp, David also called in feedpreservation specialists and BrynThomas from Kelvin Cave also ad-vised on the best approach.

Experience“We recommend the use of abuffered organic acid based preservative as we know fromboth research and our own experience, this will give themost stable preservation andthe best nutrient retention,” MrThomas says.David first heard about the

product from his contractor,Gareth Jones, who he praises forhis attention to detail and pro-ducing a high quality product.One further advantage of

increasing the crimp is a largeproportion of ration can now behome-grown and this has led toa significant reduction in the labour required to handlethe feeds.Mathew says: “We used to

have four people but now it isjust the two of us, apart from acasual helper in winter, with thebiggest time-saving made in nothaving to mill and bag barley.“We also used to grind dry

David Roberts chose to include beef cattle in his business after installing a costly lambing shed.

Growth rates improved after the farm’s forage was analysed.

We used togrow maize in the past but the newrotation works so much betterMATHEW ROBERTS

Page 13: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014


barley but it just did not makesense; it was dusty, took too longand tended to cause respiratoryproblems.”Crimp, by contrast, involves

harvesting high moisture wheator barley around three to fourweeks earlier than conventionalcereals and requires no morethan a pit, where it can beclamped, or a hard standing,where it can be stored in plastictubes.

RotationThe increase in crimp has alsofitted in well with the farm’s croprotation, where the acreage of spring barley has been dou-bled while winter wheat is all assigned to wholecrop and harvested early.“We used to grow maize in the

past but the new rotation worksso much better,” says Mathew. “We can get all cereals off the

fields by the end of July or earlyAugust and can fit in a crop ofstubble turnips to fatten thelambs.”Spring barley in the rotation

then allows three crops in two years, providing a furtherexample of how the farm has adapted to maximise its resources.In the shed, the stock are said

to do exceptionally well on thenew high-crimp ration, whichcreates far less acid loading onthe rumen than conventionalgrain.“The minute they go on to the

finishing ration, they take off,”says David. “You can tell whenthey are thriving; you can see they are blooming.”The litmus test, however, is in

performance and gradings andhere, too, David says he ispleased. Having sold lamb andbeef to Morrisons for the past 15years, he says beef carcasegrades are split roughly 50:50between Us and Rs.

“We actually aim for R4L as aminimum and if half of them areUs, it is just a bonus,” he says. “If we pushed for all Us we

would pay £60-£70 per headmore in feed which would not be economic.”The system at Ty-Draw is also

geared around a year-long in-come stream, buying differenttypes of store cattle at staggeredtimes through the year.“We buy more than 200

stores in autumn in two separatelots as we have different types ofanimal to do different jobs,” hesays.Of those, 150 go straight to

the shed and on to the fatteningration and they are kept for upto 36 months, until they weighabout 650kg.They stay in the shed until

ewes come in for lambing, whenthe high metal partitions will bereplaced with sheep fencing.Another 80 head are smaller

animals which will graze untilNovember and then go on to arearing ration until mid-April, finally being finished off grassand rolls between April and thefollowing November.

FinishingA further 150 are bought afterlambing and go back into theshed, ready to be turned outmid-April. The best of these willbe finished by November butothers will be housed again andgo on the finishing ration to besold by Christmas.Reviewing the profits on

which batch does best, Davidsays: “Profit per head may beslightly better for those rearedmore extensively but profit peracre is definitely better on thosein the shed.“We would like to expand as a

business and think the best wayto do this is by building anothershed, rather than buying moreexpensive land,” he says.

Including more home-grown feed has reduced input costs.

The sheep move back into the shed for lambing, with fencing replacing the high metal partitions.

� 255 hectares (630 acres)rented and 32ha (80 acres)owned� 1,200 Texel cross breeding ewes� 900 castrated store lambsbought in October� Bought lambs sold fromFebruary to April� 350 store cattle bought

annually for year-roundfinishing system � Cross-bred cattle with astrong emphasis on Charolais� Cattle finishing ration basedon home-grown crimped barley� All beef and lamb sold toMorrisons� Run by father and son teamwith casual winter help

Ty-Draw Farm facts

You can tellwhen they arethriving; youcan see theyare bloomingDAVID ROBERTS

Page 14: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014



Father and son Willie andJames Porter run a herdtotalling 191 breeding females, which generatesa decent profit, while also

making a valuable contribution tosoil fertility and structure.Calves are finished, with the

Porters’ conception to slaughtercattle enterprise dovetailing intotheir diverse farming business,which involves some of Scotland’sbest, and wildest, land.The Porters farm three pre-

dominantly arable units nearCarnoustie, totalling 360 hectares(890 acres) – East Scryne, the basefor their operation, plus WestScryne and Carnegie. The maincrops are cereals, soft fruit and potatoes.They also farm 90 miles to the

west, at Cashlie, a 3,035ha (7,500-acre) rough hill unit, deep in GlenLyon, Scotland’s longest glen.

Cashlie land runs up each sideof the glen, peaking twice at morethan 915 metres (3,000 feet).The heartbeat of the Porters’

profitable cattle business, wherepriorities are productivity, ease ofmanagement and cow efficiency,is the Blue Grey cow.This breed, comprising the

Whitebred Shorthorn bull overthe Galloway cow, is often dis-missed as an old fashioned, hairylittle cow. But performance and financial figures from the Porter’scattle enterprise strongly under-mine this negative view.The herd is split into spring- and

autumn-calvers, with male calveskept entire. Terminal sires areCharolais. Purchased replace-ment heifers are bulled by a Limousin.Tight-calving periods are

achieved, with both herds bulledfor nine weeks, and cows each

produce an average of nine calves.Perhaps one of the most

impressive figures for these ‘oldfashioned, hairy little cows’ is theweight of calves they wean, whenthe oldest calves are seven monthsold, while crucially also promptlygoing back in-calf.With the mature weight of the

Porters’ cows averaging about

525kg, they are consistently weaning more than 50 per cent oftheir own body weight, even withtheir heifer calves.Willie, who spends spring in

Glen Lyon, lambing Cashlie’s resident flock of 1,100 NorthCountry Cheviots, admits he ispassionate about livestock, butemphasises cattle are kept onmerit, not sentiment.He says: “This is first and fore-

most an arable farm. Cattle haveto fit in and most definitely pay.”Spring- and autumn-calving

herds are managed differently.Spring-calvers stay at Carnoustie,summering on temporary andpermanent grass, while autumn-calvers spend summer on the highslopes of Cashlie, returning toCarnoustie for calving and bulling.Spring-calvers run with bulls

from April 15, to start calving inmid-February. They are housedfor calving from February 1 toApril 1.Spring-born bull calves, enc-

ouraged to finish quickly, receiveconcentrates at grass, to avoid acheck when housed and go ontoan ad-lib ration, finishing at about14-and-a-half months.At housing, spring-born heifer

calves receive silage and 3kg/head/day of concentrates, rising to5kg until they finish at about 16months.Calves are weaned the third

week of September, with cowsstaying outside, initially cleaningup brassica and potato fields,

followed by a move to stubbles,where they receive little morethan straw and minerals to reducetheir condition pre-calving. Stub-ble fields need to be ploughed forspring-sown crops, promptinghousing of cows on February 1.“We buy long, growthy Charo-

lais bulls, and while we note calving estimated breeding values,we find the best way of avoidingcalving difficulties is to make surecows are slimmed down prior tocalving,” says Willie.

Bull costs“The cost of each bull is spreadacross the two herds, with a bullsiring at least 50 calves a year. Before they go, we expect each ofour bulls to have sired more than200 calves. Some have left morethan 300.”Autumn-calvers run with bulls

from December 1 to February 1,with the first calves due just beforemid-September.Calving cows stay outside unless

the weather, blowing straightfrom the North Sea, turns reallysavage, in which case they arehoused overnight to make obser-vation easier.From October to March,

groups of 30-34 cows and calvesstrip graze blocks of kale, supple-mented with straw. Until bulls aretaken out, cows receive 2.5lb perhead daily of barley mix with minerals.“The feeding of straw to cows on

kale is really important. Each

group gets one big bale per day,and if they are not clearing it up ona daily basis, they get less kale inthe next move, says Willie.Calves are weaned in mid-April,

with cows heading west a monthlater, to summer high in GlenLyon. The North Country Cheviotflock claims the lower grazing.The weaned autumn-born bull

and heifer calves summer onyoung grass, with young bulls receiving an increasing amount of barley mix until they are on3.6kg a day by mid-August.When these youngsters are

housed at just over a year old, thisis the first time in their lives theyhave been under a roof.Willie says: “Grass is an impor-

tant part of our rotation. We arefarming some really light land,which was once seashore, so byputting down two year grass leys,we are improving soil structure.“We sow a mix of rye-grasses –

early, medium and late – withcocksfoot, plus clover, mainlywhite, with red clover sometimesincluded. Silage is not planned,but we take a cut if we have toomuch grass, which helps to keepgrazing fresh.“We also appreciate the value

of dung from the cattle, which increases the soil’s organic matter,not just on grassland, but alsowhere cows over-winter on kaleand stubble.”By using large, long, growthy

Charolais bulls, the Porters main-tain they maximise the mothering

For some suckler producers in the UK, future decisions will pivot around the need to turn a loss-making venture into a more profitable one. Claire Powell visited Willie and James Porter, near Carnoustie on the Angus coast, to see how they developed their profitable sucker herd.

Using traditionalcows for modernsuckler herds

James (left) and Willie Porter at East Scryne, near Carnoustie, Angus. PICTURES: Claire Powell

Some of the family’s in-calf, autumn-calving Blue Grey cows, summering on Cashlie, Glen Lyon.

We expecteach of ourbulls to havesired more than200 calvesWILLIE PORTER

Page 15: Farmers Guardian Beef Special 21 November 2014


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ability of Blue Grey cows, produc-ing quick-growing and efficientlyperforming progeny.

Willie says he initially had intentions of running his own herdof Galloways at Cashlie, crossingthem with modern Shorthornbulls to breed his own replace-ments.

Replacements“I soon realised how complicatedthis would be, so we annually buy-in all our replacements fromthe same three or four herds at theannual Blue Grey sale at New-castleton in the Borders. They gostraight to the bull in November tocalve at about two years and eightmonths of age, a month before theautumn-calving herd.

“Calved heifers get a bit of extrafeeding during their first winter tohelp them go back in-calf to blendinto the autumn-calvers the following year. If they do not goback in-calf, they, along with anyyoung cows which have not held,drop into the spring-calvers.”

Older cows are not shown suchleniency. Any which are not in-calfare culled, as are any which weanconsecutively poor calves. ThePorters are adamant prioritisingherd health is vital.

“Several years ago we startedroutinely vaccinating againstBVD. Since then the cattle havenoticeably thrived better and werarely ever see a case of pneumo-nia,” says Willie.

“We have never had a case ofJohne’s and we never worm cows,but might worm new heifers intheir first year if they look as if theyneed it. We do, however, fluke allpurchased heifers plus cattlewhich have summered in GlenLyon.”

Willie also understands the economic reality of running suck-ler cows on hill units.

He says: “While we summer autumn-calvers in Glen Lyon, Iwould not want to over-winterthem there. The cost of housingand hauling feed and beddingwould soon make the herd unprofitable.”

With the beef cow acknowl-edged to underpin almost a quarter of Scottish farm output,Willie is keen to encourage hillfarmers to put on more, or insome cases, re-introduce, sucklercows, and combine with arablefarmers for a mutual benefit.

“We are lucky we have both hilland arable land, so know how wellsummering cows on hills and wintering them on arable groundworks, while also benefiting theland on each farm, especially ourarable ground.

Unity“If arable farmers with facilities,feed and bedding, but no stock,could work with upland farmerswith suckler herds who have tobuy-in all, or the bulk, of their winter feed and bedding, it canwork really well for all concerned.

“Crucially, it could be a step in the right direction towards maintaining Scottish beef cattle numbers to sustain the many linksin the Scotch beef industry chain.”

Blue Grey heifers at East Scryne, near Carnoustie, Angus, pictured after being put to the bull.

IN 2012, the Porters’ herd wascosted by SAC Consulting aspart of a Scotland/north ofEngland survey of Blue Greyherds. The figures are from theSAC report, which recordedthe autumn 2010 and spring2011 calvings.


SAC report

� Calves born: 96.5 per cent� Calves reared: 94.5 per cent� Replacements: 10.5 per cent

AVERAGE WEANING WEIGHTS� Bulls: 333kg� Heifers: 282kg

NET MARGINS� TO weaning, both herds madepositive net margins of £114 and£130 per cow, respectively. These results were compared

to average figures for hill anduplands herds surveyed by

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS),both of which were left with anegative net margin of -£95 and-£84 per cow, respectively.With the Porters’ young bulls

costed into the finishing stageat true value, again both spring- and autumn-born madea positive net margin – spring£124 and autumn £92 – againstthe QMS intensive beefenterprise average figure of£50.

We annuallybuy-in all ourreplacementsfrom the samethree or fourherdsWILLIE PORTER