January 2017

January 26, 2017 Farm Feature – Alan Meston, Chapelton

Alan Meston - webAlan Meston, Chapelton, Stonehaven

Spinning plates comes to mind when you visit at the finishing operation run by Alan Meston at Chapelton Farm, Stonehaven just south of Aberdeen where last year, he finished 2600 bullocks and 200 heifers including 1400 head of Charolais.

Despite the volumes that go through the farm, Alan has the figures at his fingertips, quoting the 2016 averages as 224 kg weight gain in 168 days, with an average of 70 days grazing (allowing 1kg gain/day on grass).  The aim is for cattle to gain 160kgs in 100 days on his finishing ration.

“Five to six years ago, it was all short term finishing  and I would have had 8-900 cattle on the farm at any one  time, kept for  around 100 days to put on 140kgs.” says Mr Meston.

“With the change in system and now keeping a mix of growing and finishing cattle, the most I have put through in a 12 month period is 2800, keeping around 1200-1400 on the farm at any one time.

I graze 700-800, mainly Charolais because I think they do best at grass. You can get Charolais finishing at 16-20 months – this is where the breed has the big advantage. You want weight for age, nothing will beat them.”

Mr Meston purchased the farm from his late father back in 2002 and has pushed numbers since then, at one stage  taking them from 500 up to 1400 over a two year period. A new steading with two sheds was built in 2009 and since then a further shed added and some have been extended. Two additional buildings are rented at a neighbouring farm.

Chapelton itself has 310 acres with a further 115 acres of rented seasonal grazing rented. A total of 260 acres of grass isare grazed and Alan realises the significant feeding value of grass, keeping it up to four years then reseeding.

“Buying growing cattle lets me spread my risk. It lets me better utilise the grass and make the best use of my intensive finishing.” he says.

Cattle are purchased from January to October with an average of 1200 on the farm at any one time, peaking at 1450. Alan purchases at Stirling, Thainstone, Huntly and on farm, particularly Charolais in larger batches. He also buys younger animals around 10-12 months,   to grow them on grass then finish inside in July-August.

cattle lineup - webHe rarely buys into November or December because of the  increased risk from disease, particularly  pneumonia which coupled with poor weather can have a great impact on performance.

He starts buying for grass in March, looking for leaner cattle and those which will give the highest feed conversion – and that will make money.

“I’m not buying the top cattle at the ringside, I’m buying the second part, good commercial cattle.

The Charolais has great potential – some  breeders take them too far, perhaps to get a bit  more  money for  them  but  it leaves  little for  the  finisher  to gain. It’s better to sell them in leaner condition.”

“You also have to look at what it costs the breeder to get them heavier, if they are too well fed, they don’t  do so well. They lose condition when they go to grass, they just melt.” he added

“I’m trying to be on top of the market and have a good idea of what happens and there is a cycle of around six months. I’m seeing gradual changes in the suckler market, seeing cattle being sold at lighter weights – the finisher needs to get their chance to do their bit.”

Cattle are regularly weighed on and off grass, on and off finishing rations and then prior to slaughter allowing Mr Meston to monitor growth alongside recording feed intakes.

Younger cattle up to a 15 month limit are put to grass, with the biggest animals on grass for six to eight weeks. They are rotated on the grass fields, with them moving closer to the finishing sheds as they get closer to weight.

All cattle are weighed on arrival and treated routinely for IBR, Blackleg, worms and fluke.

“The regime at Chapelton depends upon the age and size – it’s a very flexible system which works around the market.” he says Alan.

Cattle might only be on grass for a few weeks, moving to the starter ration for two weeks. Nutritional advice and inputs are provided by Harbro and David Mackenzie, Harbro is a regular visitor to Chapelton to advise on diet and performance.

Cattle will be grown at grass supplemented  with Energyze Cattle or inside on a silage/wholecrop/draff mix before moving on to the finishing ration, transitioning over a 14 day period.

With the reduced weight limits, Mr Meston doesn’t want them going over 700kg and incurring penalties so at 500kg, they go on to the finishing ration.

The finishing ration includes barley, biscuit meal, draff, potle ale syrup, dark grains and potatoes and is supplemented with Harbro Grampian Finisher mineral with Yea-Sacc and Rumitech.

Alan says the Rumitech helps with weight gain, “It helps keep them leaner and in the better grades.”

Such is the volume of feed consumed that two loads of washed potatoes are used every week. Cattle always have fresh feed in front of them every day with any remaining feed from the previous day removed.

“We let the troughs go empty for an hour every day, it keeps the edge on their appetite and, it maximises intakes and weight gain

Charolais bullocks spent an average 168 days on farm. “I buy to get as much weight on as possible in as short a time.”

“You need to grow them to a certain level, and you need the frame on them to finish. They cost a bit more to buy but you will get them to the better end of the prices more quickly.”

All of the kill from Chapelton achieves R or U grades – over the year, 50-60% were  U grades with 10p premium on a –U and 20p on a +U which was achieved by 5%.

Cattle are kept in straw-bedded pens of 90-100 head drawn over a three week period with 40 away for slaughter every week but in November, they dispatched had 120 per week for three weeks, nearly all Charolais at 16-20 months for the Christmas market.

“The weight limit at McIntosh Donald is  capped at 420kgs for bullocks, with severe penalties for  cattle over the limit   so I keep them within specification

Charolais bullocks averaged 385kg for the year with heifers coming in at 345 kg average, I have very few which are overweight.”

Following in the footsteps of his father also a finisher, Mr Meston bought his first cattle at the age of 13 at Thainstone’s forerunners, Kittybrewster and Belmont marts in Aberdeen. He is helped at home by wife Lesley who looks after the accounts, son Stewart, aged 19 along with a part-time man who works two days a week.

Stewart is now learning the ropes. He has been buying cattle for the last 15 months, some for his father and some for himself.

cattle lineup 2 - webThere’s an air of calm at Chapelton, cattle are quiet and contented. It’s an efficient operation too, where the 1200-1400 head of cattle can be fed in two hours, leaving plenty time for cattle to be sorted.

“If they are poorer performers, I am pretty ruthless so they’ll go for kill: we are looking at them being on the finishing ration for 100 days but when they have been on it for 120 days, it is time for them to go.

Now  that I am adding more growing cattle  and buying them  younger, I’m producing more  kgs  of beef on farm and, keeping the  weight gain up for  a longer period. Over the last four years, the average annual weight gain has increased 0.05kg/day year on year from 1.2 up to 1.4kg/day.

Mr Meston points out that “You can get a 20p premium with native breeds (Aberdeen Angus) but, you can get the same premium with good continental grades.

We are docked 5p/kg for 4H fat cover. Charolais definitely gives the weight, getting up close to maximum weight at the 4L stage which is what the slaughterhouse wants.

In essence, the Charolais gives the weight we want with the conformation that we want in the shortest time.”


January 18, 2017 Results from the Charolais Bull Requirements Survey

Thank you to everyone who took the time to complete the Charolais Bull Requirements Survey and we are pleased to announce that the draw winner’s Charolais jacket is on it’s way.

The survey has brought up some interesting feedback and it was great to see all of the positive feedback and in cases where the feedback was not so good we are looking at ways in which we can address your comments.

Lots of people are under the impression that Charolais bulls = calving problems but we know that there are lots of easy calving Charolais bulls out there. Just check out http://www.charolais.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/January-calving-ease-direct.pdf to see the latest list of easy calving bulls.

If you would like a chance to win we will be posting more questions in the coming weeks so you will have an opportunity to take part.

Please click the link to the right to view the results from the survey. Results from the Charolais Bull Requirements Survey


January 4, 2017 Free Workshops will Highlight Role of EBVs in Bull Selection Process

A series of free practical workshops to assist beef producers to select the most efficient and profitable breeding lines are being held across Scotland presented by SAC through Farm Advisory Service funding.

With the annual spring bull sales fast approaching the open events are aimed at assisting producers to choose the ideal bull for their herd. These workshops are popular and are proven to be very effective in helping buyers of bulls interpret both EBV’S (Estimated Breeding Value) cards along with  Health Cards (interpreting Johne’s, BVD, TB and IBR status) that are presented in the catalogues and bull pens at the sales.

SAC Consulting Beef Specialist Gavin Hill, who will be facilitating at the meetings, said that the additional financial challenges facing farmers this year mean it is vital producers ensure they buy the right bull for their herds.

“With tighter abattoir specification becoming more widespread, it is especially important for farmers to select bulls that complement their cows in order to ensure they produce cattle to suit their chosen market,” said Mr Hill.

“Some producers are also moving towards more maternal cow types in order to have a cow suited to her farm environment. They are combining this with looking to achieve increased fat cover, good fertility and good longevity and it is important to bear this in mind when selecting a bull.”

However, Mr Hill warns care must be taken with this strategy to achieve the correct balance since many abattoirs report heifers being slaughtered with too much fat cover resulting in penalties to the finisher.

“The EBV for fat cover has become more important,” he said. Previously, recorded breeding bulls have been rewarded for leanness. However, this has led to cattle reaching very heavy weights with little fat cover being laid down.  This is no longer in such demand by finishers following the cap on finished weight being demanded by processors.

“However, producers cannot suddenly change overnight and breeding decisions made now will not generate results for some time. With this in mind, specifications such as weight limits must be consistent to allow producers to make informed decisions when purchasing bulls.”

Mr Hill believes that EBVs are another tool to use when purchasing bulls alongside visual assessment. Comparing the use of EBVs with buying a car, he says: “EBVs will not tell you how a bull was reared or how it has been fed, but using them does give you an idea of what is going on under the bonnet.”

He advocates that first a visual assessment should be carried out for character, shape, conformation, legs and feet – all of which EBVs cannot convey.

An EBV is a value which expresses the difference (plus or minus) between an individual animal and the breed benchmark to which the animal is being compared. However, herd management also has an important role to play here as with EBVs such as calving ease. Mr Hill added: “Remember at calving time, how easily the cow will calve is 75% down to management and 25% genetics!”

Part of the workshop will also include an explanation of the Health Cards by Ian Pritchard, covering Johne’s and BVD (Bovine Virus Diarrhoea) available at the bull sales. It is increasingly important that the bulls purchased for the farm have the desired health status and the purchaser is fully aware of it. .

The EBV workshops will be held from 11am to 3pm at:

Northern Hotel, 2 Clerk Street, Brechin, DD9 6AE on Tuesday 24th January 2017 event1brechinjanuaryian2017

United Auctions, Stirling, FK9 4RN on Thursday 26th January 2017 event2stirlingian2017

Dingwall Market, Humberston, Dingwall, IV15 9TP on Thursday 2nd February 2017 event3dingwallian2017

Free lunch provided.