Charolais Features

February 10, 2017 CHAROLAIS – KING OF THE TERMINAL SIRES

Stewart Whiteford, Wester Rarichie Farm, Tain Stewart Whiteford with his cattle at Wester Rarichie. Pic - Phil Downie

Stewart Whiteford, Wester Rarichie Farm, Tain
Stewart Whiteford with his cattle at Wester Rarichie.
Pic – Phil Downie

The suckler system at Wester Rarichie featuring Stabilisers and Charolais was recently highlighted when hosting a workshop entitled ‘Profitable Breeding for the Future’ by SRUC.

The event was held at Wester Rarichie, Fearn, Ross-shire in the Scottish Highlands where Stewart Whiteford of JM Whiteford & Co played host to over 80 interested farmers.

He admitted that getting cows to be profitable without BPS is hard work but he is heading in the right direction. The key to this he says is herd health, genetics and quality of feed.

His simplified system uses three breeds, Stabilisers and Aberdeen Angus, criss-crossed to produce replacement cows and the Charolais as terminal sire.

With the aim of making the herd more easily managed, more cost-efficient and to utilise land that was not suitable for cropping, Mr Whiteford decided to ‘downsize’ from predominantly Belgian Blue cows 10 years ago and move to Stabilisers, which he considers to be the ideal suckler cow.

“The Stabiliser has proven dam lines, are not too heavy weight and you can get bigger calves out of these smaller cows.” he says. “The cows are very consistent and produce calves that are like peas in a pod, up to pens of 14.”

For his terminal sire, Mr Whiteford has been using Charolais for nearly 40 years which in his words is ‘the king of terminal sires’. He was firstly attracted by their fantastic length and has been buying his Charolais bulls from the same breeder since the early 1980’s, looking for bulls which are easily fleshed.

He has bought privately for quite a number of years now, preferring to see them naturally grown and ‘field ready’, not over pampered. Bulls are the only animals brought into the herd which is accredited for BVD.

The herd of 190 cows calve in the summer starting on June 1st and in this last calving, assistance was given to just six cows. Heifers are calved at two years of age. Cows are kept for 10 calvings with their first, second and last to the Stabiliser and Angus bulls to produce replacements which are now hefted to the farm.

After their second calving, they run with the Charolais for 12 weeks, being fed 1kg cobs/head/day over the bulling period from August until early October, followed by draff fed on the field for the following six weeks.

These cows in the herd which have run with Charolais bulls are out wintered on a hard standing area with a building for shelter, having come off grass in November according to weather conditions. They are fed on ad lib silage and have access to straw from the bedding in the shed.

The first and second calvers and the oldest cows are housed throughout the winter period.   The herd aims for a moderate size cow (under 700kg) and rearing percentage in 2015 was 95% which was helped by several sets of twins.

From a health point of view, Mr Whiteford prefers that stock is outdoor on grass wherever possible, rather than housed which also adds to the simplicity interwoven in his system.

“It’s a very simple system to run, taking one person 50 minutes to feed the cattle, dropping one round bale to every 20 cows.”

In September, calves are introduced to a creep ration of dark grains, barley and a mineral/vitamin supplement. They are weaned in March and sold through the live ring at Dingwall at 12 months of age, with 120 steers and heifers averaging 420kg and £1000 over the last two years.

He states that the high health status of the herd underpins its performance. He puts his money where his mouth is, giving his weaned calves a pre-sale treatment of respiratory vaccines and wormers plus an information package of sire, EBVs and feeding regimes.

Mr Whiteford works closely with his local vet on the herd health plan and says that the money he spends on vaccines is worth it. Stock is weighed, primarily for the purpose of ensuring correct dosage of vaccines. “My eye and the health programme is my guide to performance.”

In 2015, 44 Charolais x bullocks averaged £1148.75 (276p/kg), 38 Charolais x heifers averaged £959.86 (254p/kg), 21 Aberdeen Angus x bullocks averaged £1045.71 (254p/kg) and 14 Stabiliser x bullocks averaged £1045.71 (250p/kg).

Prices were down 20p/kg across the board in 2016 but with a tighter calving and better performance, weights were up an average of 20kg per head, a 5% increase.

Most of the calves are repeat purchases, with the majority of them finding homes in Aberdeenshire. “I don’t push the calves so it gives the finisher plenty of scope to finish them as they wish, fast or slow, feed intensively or graze them. The frame is there for them to work on.”

“You can see why the Charolais x heifer is becoming even more popular, with the ability to finish it at 400kg yet a good finisher will still be able to meet the weight targets with Charolais x bullocks.”

 Cattle let loose on fresh grass. Pic - Phil Downie


Cattle let loose on fresh grass.
Pic – Phil Downie

 

 

 

 


December 21, 2016 Charolais crosses meeting market specifications at Gwythrian

Dafydd & Alan Williams

Dafydd & Alan Williams

Taking a strategic approach to nutrition and management

 The Williams family has focused on exploiting Charolais cross efficiency for over 40 years. Taking a strategic approach to nutrition and management to beef cattle rearing and finishing is becoming increasingly important in order to achieve adequate finish and meet with processors’ 400kg to 420kg specification.

Gwythrian fact file

  • Alan and Catrin Williams farming with sons Wiliam, Dafydd and Ieuan
  • 780 acres including 80 acres spring barley, LFA
  • 80 Continental cross cow spring calving suckler herd, put to Charolais, all progeny finished
  • 420 stores bought in annually for finishing, predominantly Charolais cross heifers
  • 1,300 ewes, 180% lambs reared

The Williams run a high input high output beef enterprise in order to maximise returns, not only for themselves but also to ensure their sons’ farming future – two are back on the farm and one still at college. That goes not only for the beef enterprise which they say has a firm future at Gwythrian, but also the sheep – 90% of the February born lamb crop is away finished to target weight by June.

Attention to detail is apparent as they focus on making incremental gains across all aspects of the system – from weighing a sample of cattle on a monthly basis to ensure they are achieving target gain to analysing each specifically formulated diet on a monthly basis to check for silage quality and if necessary, modify the diet.

The Williams have also implemented a grass reseeding programme; current mixes include high sugar varieties and chicory. Performance from grazed grass has improved and grass silage has become more consistent.

Alan discusses the beef system’s key features.

Suckler herd
We run a spring calving herd; 75% calve within the first two cycles and the remainder within 12 weeks; we are achieving an average 95% reared, a figure we’d like to push further. Replacement heifers are sufficiently grown to calve at two years and to an AI sire.

Maintaining a high health herd is critical; we inject for Lepto and BVD.

Charolais bulls are carefully selected within the breed’s top 10% for ease of calving and 400 day weight EBVs, however they also have to look the part. Bulls that are good on the eye and have the best Breedplan data tend to be 2,000gns above the average, however we believe they are a very good investment. With VIA already in operation at one of our processors, selecting sires for loin depth will become increasingly important.

Male calves are kept entire. Bulls and heifers are weaned at six months and housed.

Homebred bulls
On housing, the bulls are gradually introduced over a 10-day period to a high starch TMR.

We prefer to finish bulls rather than steers – we’re aware from experience they are far more efficient in terms of feed conversion, they’re easier to finish and to get the right cover and they’re all away by 13 months which frees up space for more cattle and our time for other things. For those various reasons, it’s a shame that the majority of processors are no longer interested in bulls.

Homebred heifers
We target 1.1kg DLWG from weaning to May turn out and that’s what they are achieving on Wynnstay’s diet specifically formulated for heifers. After their second grazing season they are introduced to a second diet, specifically formulated for finishing heifers – see table 2.

Purchased stores
We purchase mainly Charolais cross heifers at an average 17 months of age and 530kg at a handful of local store markets – we are very selective. We have over the years developed a relationship with various suckler men, we provide them with feedback on their cattle and encourage them to invest in Charolais bulls with the same high EBVs that we are looking for.

Housed cattle are introduced to the same finishing diet as the homebred heifers. We target 1.5kg DLG and that’s what the cattle are achieving.

50% finish off grass. They are supplemented with a mix of homegrown barley fed at 5kg a head per day and molasses for the final two months. To achieve the correct target weight and cover, we find them easier to finish off grass.

Table 1: Gwythrian beef unit performance 2015/16

Weaning (kg) at 24 weeks

Target DLWG (kg)

Finished Dwt (kg)

Finished age (months)

Charolais cross homebred bulls

320

1.7

390

13

Charolais cross homebred heifers

280-290

1.6

400

24

Charolais cross purchased heifers

1.5

400

24

Source: Gwythrian

Gwythrian nutrition: key features
Diets are all home mixed using the same basic ingredients – homegrown silage, homegrown barley and barley straw plus by-products. The diets are formulated according to age, weight and gender by Gwythrian’s nutritionist, Iwan Vaughan, of Wynnstay who offers the following pointers.

Working closely with the Williams, we have adapted diets over the years to achieve higher DLWG per kg DMI. This has meant moving away from cheaper starch based by-products to utilising more home grown barley and adding ground maize into the diet, which offers a slower fermenting starch source that reduces acid load and increases the utilisation and efficiency of the other feedstuffs.

Regularly weighing cattle along with recording feed intakes through the Keenan’s Pace software system provides valuable data and information to enable management decisions. Although the cost per kg DM of feed may be higher, the feed cost per kg of gain is far less.

Weighing cattle is key to Gwythrian’s success. The time spent doing this is nothing compared to the financial gains that can be achieved from analysing the data.

Creep feeding calves
Calves are offered concentrates as a creep feed in August to take advantage of the superior feed efficiency of a young ruminant and to restrict the check at weaning. The creep comprises 50% of a 20% protein rearer nut, and 50% oats giving us a 15% overall mix. This mix gives us higher digestible fibre from the nuts and oats which is ideally suited to be fed alongside grass. The starch within the diet is kept at a moderate level to ensure the calves are growing lean and bone at an early age and not laying down fat.

Young Bulls
After weaning the bulls are slowly introduced to a finishing diet. Starch is increased through the finishing period whilst the protein content is reduced. The target diet parameters are as follows

  • MJ/kg DM-12MJ
  • Crude Protein
  • Starch
  • Sugar

The acid load and rumen health are taken into account and faeces monitored. The diet adjusted if required.

Young Heifers
On housing after weaning they are introduced to a forage diet based on silage and supplemented with oats and a custom blend to increase energy and protein to the target levels. Starch levels are kept low through this period to encourage frame growth instead of fat deposition.

Finishing Heifers
As the finishing heifers are housed they are introduced to a grass silage diet supplemented with high levels of starch. The target parameters are as follows.

  • MJ/kg DM-12MJ
  • Crude Protein
  • Starch
  • Sugar

The target is to get as much out of the home grown silage as possible and supplement with high quality raw materials with a range of starches that degrade in the rumen over different periods of time in order to manage rumen acid loading. Faeces are monitored and diets adjusted as required.

Gwythrian diets

 

DM %

ME/kg DM

CP%

FCR kg gain/kg DMI

Main components

Bulls
Seven to 13 months finish

85

11.8

13.5-14

5.3:1

Barley, oats, ground maize, custom blend (comprising rapemeal, distillers and sugar beet pulp), molasses, minerals (including Biosprint yeast) and Sodium Bicarbonate. Straw is included in the mix, and also offered ad lib

 

Heifers
Seven to 12 months

48

11.2

15

6.5:1

Grass silage, straw, oats, custom blend, minerals including Biosprint yeast

 

Heifers
final stage to 24 months finish

57

11.8

13.5

8:1

Grass silage, straw, barley, oats, ground maize, custom blend, molasses, minerals (including Biosprint yeast), sodium bicarbonate

 

 

Source:  Wynnstay

Nutritionist - Iwan Vaughan

Nutritionist – Iwan Vaughan

gwythrian-bulls


October 14, 2016 Meeting the new weight specifications

Meeting the new weight specifications 

Charolais cross steers can be fast finished within the new weight specification according to the Watson family’s system at Darnford, Banchory, Aberdeenshire.  

Their latest crop of steers achieved the following performance. 

Table 1: Darnford steer performance 2016

Finished

Dwt (kg)

Finished age (months) Est DLG (kg) Ave DDWG (kg) KO%
Charolais cross steers ave 380.62 16.76 1.28 0.76 58
Average Q-Box 370.56 21.56 0.99 0.60

Source: MacIntosh Donald

 

The following scatter graph demonstrates how the Darnford steers consistently achieved beyond target performance

 darnford3

 The Darnford system: key features 

Genetics

Charolais has been the preferred terminal sire for over 25 years. Bulls are selected initially on visual appraisal for feet and mobility, and then from the breed’s top 10% and in particular for weight EBVs.

Damline, Salers. Heifer replacements are selected for size, feet, temperament and maternal qualities.

Management

Split calving herd: a 12 week calving period is maintained in the spring calving herd, and over nine weeks in autumn, to help simplify management. Steers and heifers are separated at eight month weaning enabling a tailored nutrition programme which takes in to account their very different requirements. All animals are allowed to grow to achieve adequate frame size before being intensively finished.

Nutrition

All diets home mixed using the same basic ingredients – homegrown forage and cereals combined with cost effective bought in by-products. The key is formulating diets specific to age, weight and gender, consequently they offer flexibility to vary starch and protein levels at key stages of development. See Table 1. Herd nutritionist, Harbro’s David MacKenzie offers the following pointers.

 

  • Calves: low-starch creep feed to avoid early fat deposition.
  • Yearlings: reasonably high protein diet, 15% to 17% CP, with limited starch, to encourage lean growth and frame development.
  • Cattle are turned out for a limited three month grazing period and set stocked, followed by housing in early August. They are introduced to full finishing rations after they reach 500kg liveweight.
  • Steers: low protein, high starch finisher.
  • Heifers: higher protein, lower starch finisher
  • Both steer and heifer diets are formulated with limited forage and balanced with cereal and dark grains in order to achieve the correct fat cover and meat yield.

 

 

Table 1: Darnford herd diets

  DM % ME/kg DM CP% FCR Main diet components
Calf creep 86.00 12.50 18.7 3.5:1 Maxammon alkaline treated barley, distillers dark grains, sugar beet, minerals plus yeast and Rumitech
Yearling steer 47.00 12.70 15.8 9:1 TMR: grass silage, alkaline treated barley, distillers dark grains, sugar beet, minerals plus yeast and Rumitech
Yearling heifer 43.00 12.40 17.2 8:1  

As above

 

 

Finishing steer 65.00 13.00 13.5 9.2:1 TMR: limited forage, increased treated alkaline barley, distillers dark grains, sugar beet, minerals plus yeast and Rumitech
Finishing heifer 60.00 12.90 15.5 8.4:1 TMR: limited forage, treated alkaline barley, distillers dark grains, sugar beet, minerals plus yeast and Rumitech

Source: Darnford/Harbro

Measuring and monitoring

All cattle are weighed and benchmarked – at birth, at eight month weaning and thereafter at six weekly intervals until reaching target finishing weight.

Health

Closed herd, member of the SRUC Premium Cattle Health Scheme, own herd health plan reviewed annually with the farm vet.

 

 


April 14, 2016 Charolais is the Number One Choice

John & Ewan Gordon

John & Ewan Gordon

The Charolais is still the number one choice for the Aberdeenshire store ring and for over 20 years, John Gordon, Wellheads has been selling Charolais cross yearling stores at a premium. With a reputation for well framed stores, there is a ready market for his stock.

Wellheads, Huntly is one of the best known upland stock farms in the North-east of Scotland. The farm’s reputation for producing quality sheep and cattle made it a key attraction as host of Scotsheep in 2006 and Wellheads regularly hosts visits from farmers from home and abroad.

Calves born in the spring of 2015 were sold on February 19 at Thainstone Centre, Inverurie where a pen of seven steers secured the top price, realising 284p/kg, with steers averaging 440kg and heifers 420kg.

“Our feedback from buyers is the fact that they have been coming back for a number of years to buy our stores. We did have one buyer who didn’t get this year because they were too expensive, a reflection of the demand for this type of cattle.

My market is the store cattle buyer at Thainstone, who is looking for cattle, well grown for their age and carrying a moderate bit of condition ready to move on to more  concentrated cereal feed for the finisher to put flesh on them, taking them to 700kg liveweight or 400kg deadweight.

The Charolais breed is ideally suited as you can get them to a good weight for age at a year old.” says John who for a number of years now has been achieving his target weights of 440kg for steers and 420kg for heifers.

In comparison to some other breeds, the Charolais will maximise its potential at a younger age and heifers at Wellheads have been fed separately from steers for a number of years. Diets are  home-mixed using pit silage, Prograin-treated bruised barley, draff and a mineralised protein concentrate, Rumitech 35 + Yea-Sacc with a 16% protein ration for growing heifers and 14% protein ration for growing steers.

This flexible system, using home-grown materials and draff from local distilleries allows diets to be adjusted easily to suit the gender, age and weight.

David Mackenzie, Harbro who formulates the diets for Wellheads, advocates the use of a low starch creep feed for calves to avoid early deposition of fat and that yearlings should be fed a reasonably high level of protein, to promote frame development and lean growth.

“This higher protein and lower starch level is particularly important for heifers who are predisposed to laying down fat. This facilitates the development of a good, strong frame, ready for fleshing out. ” says David Mackenzie.

Bearing in mind the recent weight restrictions imposed by beef processors, the combination of the Charolais’ growth potential with the Wellheads’ Limousin cross cows, produces an  animal that can easily be finished to the desired weight, with muscle in all the right places and desired correct fat cover.

“These cows are predominantly ¾ Limousin crosses and with the growth of the Charolais, produces an animal which will mature at 700kg. The first Charolais came to Wellheads in 1971 and we have been using them ever since.” says John.

Not producing an excessively large animal is also dependent on cow size with the average cow at Wellheads weighing in at 680kg. These cows are better suited for the job, are nicely shaped, without being too extreme or muscly, and are ‘more easily kept’, i.e. eating less than a 750kg cow.

John is careful where he buys his replacement heifers, purchasing them locally from BVD accredited herds, to maintain his own herd health which is also accredited for BVD.

“There is the perception that using a Charolais bull can lead to difficulties in calving but I believe that it is down to cow management, having them fit, not fat. It is also down to careful bull selection, matching the bull’s growth potential to the cow size. I’m not buying an extreme bull, but selecting one that is well shaped and fleshy.”

John has a number of Charolais bulls including sires from Elrick, Blelack and Kinclune. When selecting new bloodlines, he pays attention to the calving figures stating that he doesn’t mind calving a few cows but he is looking for sensible mid-range figures.

Along with genetics and nutrition, management is equally important to maximise performance.

John’s starting point for managing the herd is at the point of weaning, taking the opportunity to get cow condition right, either to add a bit of condition or to thin them down a bit.

The autumn calvers (120) are weaned on August 1 and moved onto bare pasture with access to straw and Harbro Super Suckler SEC buckets. As they move closer to calving, cows are moved onto a straw diet and taken inside to ease management.

Bulling starts on November 10 by which time, the cows will have been housed for a few days and are fed on a TMR of silage, draff, straw, Prograin treated barley and minerals. From that point, calves have access to Beefstock from a creep feeder.

At the end of bulling which runs for nine weeks, cows and calves are moved from the straw courts to slats until they are turned out to grass in mid-May.

The spring calving herd comprises 130 cows and heifers with a few more cows being kept since John’s son Ewan came home, following completion of his college studies and a six month work experience trip to New Zealand.

The earliest born calves are weaned in mid to late October whilst later born calves (late March – April) are housed with their mothers on slats and weaned in mid-December.

Earlier calving, fitter cows are turned out until the weather turns poor. The outside cows can afford to lose a bit of condition to get them in a better state for calving. Leaner and older cows are kept inside and looked after a bit better to hold their condition.

Weaned calves are split and are fed on a TMR of straw, silage, draff, Prograin treated barley and Rumitech 35 + Yea-Sacc.

In the period up to the end of December, steers are fed 3kg bruised barley per head per day with heifers receiving 2kg per head per day, with the diet being adjusted as the cattle grow.

“Over the last 20 years, we have made no major changes to what we do, more fine-tuning of nutrition, bull selection and cow management because there is always something you can learn; every day is a school day.

We are acutely aware of ‘Eurocracy’ and farm support and the worry it is to every business but we are constantly looking at ways to improve our system.

The Charolais has done us well over the last 20 to 30 years and I’m sure will continue to do so in the future.”

Farm Facts

Wellheads, Huntly, Aberdeenshire

John, wife Fiona and son Ewan farm in partnership

Fourth generation of Gordon family since 1879

Upland farm, 1250 acres, ranging from 600-1230 feet above sea level

250 suckler cows, split calving

860 Scotch Mule ewes & 200 Scotch Mule hoggs

lineup


April 4, 2016 Factory demands taking traditional beef breeds off commonages’

Demands for a certain type of product has had a dramatic impact on the herd profiles of suckler operations in hill farming areas, according to Fergal Monaghan.

The specialist commonage advisor says that ever since the BSE crisis the demand has been for younger beef, with animals slaughtered at 30 months or younger.

“Those involved in finishing animals have quite naturally responded to this by demanding calves that can be finished by the age demanded by processors and big retail chains.”

All of this, he said, mitigates against traditional breeds and encourages the increasing dominance of continental beef breeds and demands calves be sold before the first winter.

“In the past many of these farmers would have kept animals for two winters, this pattern is a thing of the past. The demand for younger beef and the price penalties put on older stock means that calves are sold before the first winter.”

A knock on effect of this, he said, is that farmers with commonage may find passing the utilisation test difficult if Purple Moor Grass is not kept under control.

“Passing the utilisation test is a particular problem in situations where past management has led to the dominance of a single plant species. In spite of the focus on it during the debate on the future of commonages heather is not the real problem.

“This deciduous grass grows rapidly in early summer but its palatability for stock is limited. Sheep will only eat it if fenced in and deprived of alternatives, cattle and horses will graze on it in early summer but by August it has gone over and is largely avoided by stock if alternatives are present.”

If large bovines are absent in early summer, he said, their introduction to the commonage is too late in the season for Molinia to be utilised.

“When this occurs cattle may concentrate on other parts of the site and largely avoid the wet heaths where Moloinia dominates. This creates a very real risk that such areas could be deemed to ineligible for payments due to the absence of agricultural activity.

“In short they fail the utilisation test. In many cases a finding of ineligibility like this and the ensuing penalties could destabilise the finances of the entire farm.”

http://www.agriland.ie/farming-news/factory-demands-taking-traditional-beef-breeds-off-commonages


February 10, 2016 Charolais crosses – meeting the new weight specification

Genetics + nutrition + management to maximise the number of kilos per cow as quickly and efficiently as possible 

Callum Keir

Callum Keir

Factfile

Callum Keir, Cairncoullie, Kildrummy, Alford

500 acres including 150 acres spring barley

120 Simmental cross breeding females put to Charolais, split calving herd, all progeny finished

200 stores purchased annually and finished

200 ewes, all progeny finished

One part time employee, 

Charolais has been the terminal sire at Cairncoullie for over 30 years, and without question will continue that role in future regardless of processors’ new weight limits. “We run a high input, high output unit, and our priority is to maximise the number of kilos per cow as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Callum Keir explains.

“Charolais with its unbeatable weight for age is vital to doing that job together with detailed management and accompanying nutrition which is resulting in our cattle already arriving within processors new specification.

Cairncoullie herd performance 2014/15

Finished

Dwt (kg)

Finished age (months)
Charolais cross steers ave 385 20 – 21
Charolais cross heifers ave 368 18 – 19

 

“All Charolais cross steers and a portion of the heifers are sold deadweight, some butcher type heifers are traded liveweight at Thainstone mart where they frequently are found within the day’s top prices.”

Keys to Cairncoullie success

Genetics: “The selection process is initially based on kill sheet observations,” Callum explains. “For example, if a portion of same sired calves were failing to grade within the grid specification, then we would look for a new bull with in a bigger muscle area. We also go for longer type Charolais bulls and they must be reared on forage and fibre based diets. The latest additions were sourced from the Thurso herd.”

Nutrition: “Diets are all home mixed using the same basic ingredients – home-grown forage and cereals combined with cost effective bought in blends. The key is formulating diets specific to age, weight and gender, consequently they are easier to manage in groups and offer flexibility to vary starch and protein levels at key stages of development,” says Callum. “Harbro’s David MacKenzie manages the diets and calls in on a regular basis to monitor the farm’s data.” The diets feature the following

  • Calves: low-starch creep feed to avoid early fat deposition.
  • Yearlings: reasonably high protein diet, 15% to 17% CP, with limited starch, to encourage lean growth and frame development.
  • Cattle are turned out for a limited three month grazing period and set stocked, followed by housing in late July and introduced to full finishing rations after they reach 500kg liveweight.
  • Steers: low protein, high starch finisher.
  • Heifers: higher protein, lower starch finisher.
  • Both steer and heifer diets are formulated with limited forage and balanced with cereal and dark grains in order to achieve the correct fat cover and meat yield.

Cairncoullie herd diets

  DM % ME/kg DM CP% FCR Main diet components
Calf creep 86 13 17 3.5 : 1 Maxammon barley, Gramp Blend and Minerals, Yea-sacc, Rumitech
Yearling steer 48 12.6 15 9 : 1 TMR – pit silage, Maxammon barley, Gramp Blend and Minerals, Yea-sacc, Rumitech
Yearling heifer 42 12.5 15.5 8.8 : 1 As above
Finishing steer 86 12.9 13 8.5 : 1 TMR – straw, Maxammon barley, Propcorn barley, Gramp Blend and Minerals, Yea-sacc, Rumitech
Finishing heifer    86 12.8 15 8.4 : 1 As above

Source: Cairncoullie/Harbro

Management: “We try to pay attention to detail at every turn and manage the herd by a health plan, testing and vaccinating for infections, ensuring cows energy requirements are met and by knowing their mineral status . They calve down fit not fat and are literally able to calve themselves which is really important since I’m totally responsible for all the stock work. We give the heifers the best chance possible by running them in a separate group until second calving.

“Grampian Super Suckler Minerals have been used for a number of years which have been balanced to make up for shortfalls in local trace element deficiencies which ensure we have productive cows and healthy new born calves that are able to reach their potential. We also feed Omega 25 at 150g per head which is a high fish oil product to ensure cows come into heat quicker.

“We target a tight calving pattern: the spring calving herd is achieving between 75% to 85% within the first six weeks and the entire portion within 11 weeks. Similarly, 80% of the autumn calving herd calve within the first six weeks.”

Callum is also focused on young bull management. “Charolais bulls are purchased at 14 to 16 months; in their first working year we introduce them to the same number of cows as age in months, for example 20 cows at 20 months of age. We find this regime helps to extend their working life to eight to nine years.”

He adds: “We’re continually looking at ways to improve herd efficiency. For example, shortening the grazing season and introducing the steers to ad lib barley three months earlier not only helped us to achieve target deadweight sooner, but resulted in freeing up more quality grass for lamb finishing and reducing fertiliser requirements.”

 

 


January 14, 2016 Maximising output on a low input system

Charolais’ ease of calving and superior growth rates are enabling Edward Hull’s 750 cow suckler beef enterprise to minimise both fixed and variable inputs, whilst maximising kilogram output per acre. Indeed, he has found the Charolais performance so dependable that his five year plan features expanding the herd to 1,000 cows, and all put to poll Charolais.

Edward Hull

Edward Hull

Edward and his wife Ann, who farm in partnership with his parents in rural Essex, are third generation farmers and have expanded the farm to 6,000 acres and using poll Charolais for eight years after buying one with a batch of cows and being impressed by his progeny. He said: “Performance is measured by realising maximum output per acre from minimal inputs, which is essential on such an extensive system. The market pay cheque from repeat buyers at Rugby and Thame markets, who know our Charolais cross calves respond to low input practices and perform very well on all systems, is one of the most important indicators of our profitability.”

The herd is averaging 95% calves reared from birth with the 2015 crop of six to eight month old Charolais cross steers delivering an average of £800 – consistently within the top 5% of the day’s trade, whilst the majority of heifers have been kept to finish next year. “We are fortunate that on such an extensive system we have the grassland to be able to keep stock until the price is right, and that includes finishing some of the heifers. In 2015 heifers were slaughtered at 14 to 19 months weighing 300kg to 360kg, with 92% grading R and U and returning £1,000 to £1,200 per head.

“Every part of the enterprise has to pay its own way; we don’t rely on the arable side to support the beef, or the sheep, or vice versa, and each part of the business is regularly checked for cost of production vs profitability. That’s why Charolais genetics of exceptional growth for age and ease of calving are so important to us. The latest crop of calves saw the steers DLWG to weaning 1.48kg and 1.35kg to slaughter on the heifers.” All arable crops are sold and do not subsidise the beef or sheep enterprises, whilst 1,000 acres of straw is evenly split between export to Holland and used in the cattle enterprise.

       Hull Farms, Turncole Farm, Southminster, Essex

·        750 cows and 200 heifers

·        26 bulls

·        Over 1,200 head of cattle at any time

·        6,000 acre mixed farm – 5,000 grazing and 1,000 arable

·        All grassland within HLS scheme

·        75% of land designated Site of Special Scientific Interest

·        2,000 breeding ewes for finished lamb production

·        Six full time staff including Edward and his father

“We can’t afford to have poor performance, at birth the poll Charolais always deliver sensibly sized calves that more often than not we find up and suckling with no intervention at birth; it’s one aspect that enables us to keep labour inputs low at three full time men at calving. All cows are freeze marked so that we can quickly identify cows for easy management, enabling us to keep up to date computer records, particularly at calving. Any underperforming cows are easily identified and finished and slaughtered locally.

“The entire herd of cows and heifers, predominantly Hereford cross, is calved at the main farm and turned away to grazing as soon as possible, normally stocking at one cow/ha. Furthermore, we’re in a very dry part of the country with 19 inches of rain a year, with the easy calving traits of the Charolais we are able to take advantage of this with up to 75% of cows calving out at grass, which is great for minimising inputs as well as being healthier for the cattle.

“Very little of the grassland receives fertilizer as we like to keep inputs to a minimum but this also has the added benefit of the increased growth of naturally occurring legumes which in turn benefit the cattle and sheep performance.”

Hull Farms relies upon the careful selection of poll Charolais bulls for its profitability. Edward explained: “When it comes to replacing one of our 26 bulls we look to EBVs as an essential guide to future performance, selecting bulls within the top 10% for 200 and 400 day weights, as well as all important calving ease. However, I still have to like the look of a bull.” He continued: “As well as the Hereford cross cows which we find to be very docile, we also favour Charolais bulls for their temperament. With our numbers we can’t afford for any animal to so much as look at me the wrong way.” Each bull is fertility tested every spring.

Dam condition and health is recognised as an equally important part of the low input, maximum output system. “We target condition score 3 to 3.5 at bulling and 2.5 by calving.” Spring 2016 will see 75% of the spring calving block due to calve within the first four weeks of the 10 week period. Edward continued: “We split the herd into sub-groups of 60 or 90 cows with calves at foot, with one bull per 30 cows to maximise fertility.” A further 100 cows calve in an eight week autumn calving period.

Heifers are bulled at 18 to 24 months and then wintered outside on hay and straw, as we have so many cows on the farm we currently have a policy of culling cows over 10 years old. Cows are housed in open roofed corrals, bedded on woodchip and chopped straw, and fed 15kg/day/head of chopped straw, citrus pulp, molasses and meal. Approximately 200 replacement Hereford cross heifers are sourced each year and reared as bucket calves. “We pay particular attention to health and vaccinate them against pneumonia and keeping them in small batches so we can isolate and treat any health issues effectively.”

Weaned Charolais cross suckled calves are marketed through markets in the midlands, and transported weekly in batches of 75 throughout September and October in the farm’s own lorry. “It makes sense for us to take our cattle to the Midlands, where the buyers are, and transporting them ourselves means we can manage travel costs and also reduce stress.”

To further reduce stress and maximise growth at weaning Edward also feeds 2kg/day of a blended mix creep feed, 13ME kg/DM and 17% crude protein, in the last six weeks before sale.

Confidence in Charolais genetics and the future of the beef sector are integral to the enterprise’s growth, Edward explains: “We would love to have a farm business that our sons and daughter could be involved in 15 years’ time, if they wanted to, and we are not scared of change or challenges, embracing new ideas and technology including EID in the near future.

“In the meantime, our grazing land enables us to farm competitively and keep costs low, and as conservation grazing becomes increasingly available we can step up our acreage and further expand cow numbers by up to 33%, solely put to Charolais sires. This will mean we can offer a higher volume of uniform calves and achieve greater economies of scale without excessive labour or feed requirements due to the Charolais sires’ ease of calving and fast growing traits.”

Winter houses cows

Winter houses cows

Some of the bull team

Some of the bull team

 


January 13, 2016 Managine Charolais crosses to meet the new abattoir spec

Processors’ failure to notify producers in advance of the changes to their new 400kg to 420kg upper weight limit has left finishers in a quandary, particularly those who have bought in heavy stores. However, they have huge scope to avoid the penalties and to compensate for the potential output loss arising from lighter steer carcasses by adopting new management and feed strategies and focussing on improving the heifer output, says Harbro’s David MacKenzie.

Watson

The Watson Family

Continental sires, and in particular Charolais noted for its weight for age, have an important role to play in efficient beef production; they are able to finish to heavier weights in a shorter period of time and thereby demonstrate improved efficiency. Consequently, now is the time to be increasing output if farmers wish to maintain a profitable and sustainable system.

Data from 96,000 cattle slaughtered in 2014 highlights the crux of the current issue – that Continental sires are associated with improved output, both from steers and heifers. See table 1. Finishers’ immediate challenge is to manage these Continental cross progeny to fit market specifications.

Table 1: Comparison of finished Continental v native sired steers and heifers

table 1_001
Source: Harbro Q Box

To successfully meet the challenge, finishers should consider the following blueprint strategy focused on

1, Management: rethink your current strategy to achieve the new specification – plan from birth

2, Nutrition: split steers and heifers from the creep stage and feed specific gender formulated diets through to finishing. Work closely with your nutritionist.

3, Measure and monitor: weigh the total group of animals at regular intervals; benchmark both within and outwith the herd.

4, Health: introduce a herd health management plan.

5, Assess individual animal health by monitoring slaughter house health reports.

Continental cross steers: reduce the store / growing stage. Higher energy diets introduced earlier will reduce the frame size whilst a balanced diet will provide adequate fat cover at optimal weight. Benchmark target weights per age and stage towards the end goal.

Target: 390kgs deadweight, 705kgs liveweight by 610 days; aim for 1.1kgs DLG or better from birth.

Continental cross heifers: one of the greatest inefficiencies within the UK beef industry is our sub-optimal output from heifers, and any move away from Continental sires threatens to exacerbate this trend. There are real opportunities here for producers to improve heifer output by using Charolais genetics.

Quality protein is key through the first year of life starting at 18% CP and keeping that CP level at an average 2% higher than the steers throughout the finisher period; do not introduce the same high energy and starch levels formulated for feeding to the steers. Your aim is to encourage heifer frame size without laying down excess fat.

Target: 360kgs deadweight 650kgs liveweight by 550 days; aim for 1.1kgs DLG or better from birth.

…………………………………………..

16Darnford 2

14 Month old Charolais cross Salers Steers

16Darnford 3

14 month old Charolais cross Salers heifers

Case study

The Watson family of Darnford, Durris, Banchory have proved that introducing fast finishing Charolais cross steers and heifers in to a planned management and nutrition strategy is resulting in adequate finish and an average 380kg deadweight within 20 months. Their success contributed towards them last month being awarded the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year 2015.

Factfile

Peter Watson farming with sons, David and Adam and daughters-in-law, Aynsley and Lynne

426 cow Salers closed suckler herd, split calving

274 spring calving cows put to Charolais, all progeny finished

152 autumn calving cows bred pure for replacement purposes

1,350 acre tenanted unit, including 700 acres spring barley

Majority of unit within SDA

“Achieving an average 380kg deadweight is not new for us,” says Peter Watson. “Our objective has always been to maximise the number of kilos produced per cow and to realise that weight gain as early as possible. The quicker these beasts finish, the quicker they’re off the farm.

“Darnford is an extensive unit providing for three families, the complementary arable and livestock enterprises are run as separate, efficient businesses and as far as the herd is concerned, then each suckler cow has to justify her existence. Everything has to work and make money. We produce high quality finished cattle sold deadweight whilst we trade the pick of the crop through the Thainstone store ring and they invariably end up within the day’s top 10% of prices.

“We have in the herd the genetics to achieve that fast weight gain, and Charolais is the breed to do the job, however from our experience, we are aware that it’s the nutrition and management that really makes the difference. In fact, fast weight gain is essential whatever the system and it can be adjusted to suit the new grid.”

Table 2. Darnford herd performance 2014/15

table 2_001
Source: Darnford

The Darnford system: key features

Genetics

Charolais has been the preferred terminal sire for 25 years. Bulls are selected initially on visual appraisal for feet and mobility, and then from the breed’s top 10% and in particular for weight EBVs.

A Continental cross herd has recently been replaced by Salers. Heifer replacements are selected for size, feet, temperament and maternal qualities.

Management

A 12 week calving period is maintained in the spring calving herd, and over nine weeks in autumn, to help simplify management.

Steers and heifers are separated at eight month weaning enabling a tailored nutrition programme which takes in to account their very different requirements.

All animals are allowed to grow to achieve adequate frame size before being intensively finished.

David Mackenzie

David Mackenzie

Nutrition

Diets are all home mixed using the same basic ingredients – homegrown forage and cereals combined with cost effective bought in by-products. The key is formulating diets specific to age, weight and gender, consequently they offer flexibility to vary starch and protein levels at key stages of development. See Table 3. The unit’s nutritionist, Harbro’s David MacKenzie offers the following pointers.

Calves: low-starch creep feed to avoid early fat deposition.
Yearlings: reasonably high protein diet, 15% to 17% CP, with limited starch, to encourage lean growth and frame development.
Cattle are turned out for a limited three month grazing period and set stocked, followed by housing in early August. They are introduced to full finishing rations after they reach 500kg liveweight.
Steers: low protein, high starch finisher.
Heifers: higher protein, lower starch finisher
Both steer and heifer diets are formulated with limited forage and balanced with cereal and dark grains in order to achieve the correct fat cover and meat yield.
Table 3: Darnford herd diets

table 3_001
Source:  Darnford/Harbro

Measuring and monitoring

All cattle are weighed and benchmarked – at birth, at eight month weaning and thereafter at six weekly intervals until reaching target finishing weight. “If you don’t measure, you can’t monitor and if necessary, fix an issue,” says Peter.

“We have a new handling system within the main accommodation and an accompanying hand held EID reader enabling us to weigh an average 80 beasts per hour. It’s a job that’s frequently linked to something else, for example vaccination.

“We rate weighing a great management tool and time well spent. Whilst good stockmen have a fair idea of how the beasts are performing, sometimes you get a surprise. For example last autumn we found a batch were failing to meet our target 1.6kg/day liveweight so we wormed them and tweaked the diet. We reckon we caught the issue two months earlier than we would have visually done.”

Health

The closed herd is a member of the SRUC Premium Cattle Health Scheme and its own herd health plan is reviewed annually with the farm vet.

Peter Watson adds: “We believe we have a successful blueprint – we have a finely tuned system in which Charolais is demonstrating its ability to produce excellent carcass weights within specification in both steers and heifers, however there’s always room for further progress. We are considering introducing creep from day one in order to optimise FCE, whilst we can certainly improve our grassland management.”

16Darnford 5 bulls

16Darnford 4 bull team

The Charolais Bulls

 


January 13, 2016 Charolais crosses achieve better performance and higher financial returns over Continental crosses

Bulls finish one month earlier, £45/head feed cost savings

Heifers finish almost three months earlier, £120/head feed costs savings 

????????????????????????????????????

Tom Davies and stockman, Phil Price

 

Factfile

Will, Carol, Tom and Julie Davies, Upper Court Farm, Clifford, Hay on Wye

Stockman, Phil Price

220 cow split calving suckler herd

1,300 acre mixed unit

 

 Making a simple change of terminal sire and introducing Charolais is making a significant contribution towards improving output from a portion of the Davies family’s suckler herd.

Charolais cross bulls compared with the unit’s other Continental cross bulls finished one month earlier making feed cost savings of £45 a head; they weighing an average 8% heavier consequently their sale value was £110 a head higher.

The Charolais cross heifers achieved target finishing weights 2.76 months earlier than the remainder and subsequently achieved feed cost savings of approximately £120 a head. These heifers also killed out in a higher specification.

The bulls were group housed and fed the same diet – see figure 2, similarly the crop of heifers was run as one group.

“Our objective is to maximise output per cow and produce the best possible finished animal in the easiest to manage system,” Phil explains. “We thought we could push the herd a bit more and aware of Charolais and its ability to leave animals with better weight for age, in 2012 we decided to invest in a bull. He was fresh blood and we thought he would suit our Continental cross cows – those we didn’t need for breeding replacements.

“This bull soon proved his worth, so the following year we secured a second Charolais bull. Both were selected for shape, they were not too heavily boned and most importantly they hadn’t been stuffed, they were naturally reared.”

Beef rearing and finishing is complementary to Upper Court’s arable enterprise. “We have a certain amount of land which we cannot use for anything but grazing, we are not fans of sheep, the beef muck is complimentary and we are prepared to take the volatile beef market in our stride,” Tom explains. “We are resigned to living with TB, consequently we run a closed herd and finish the entire crop of calves. We achieve a huge degree of self-sufficiency using home grown cereals, forage and straw.

“We are focused on getting the most out of each animal, and are also keen to implement the latest tools, information and advice along with better genetics, nutrition and management. For example, we are improving our grazing by introducing a reseeding programme with modern varieties in a seven to 10 year rotation.”

The Davies introduced independent nutritionist, David Hendy to formulate new diets which have helped to considerably step up performance – a home mix creep fed to the spring born calves from 16 weeks of age through to housing in early November; a bull finishing diet and a third diet fed in the final 10 to 12 weeks of finishing to the heifers.

Figure 1: Upper Court Farm herd diets

  DM % ME/kgDM CP%/kgDM FCR Main diet components
Creep 85.30 12.50 16% 3.75:1 Rolled barley, whole oats, wheat distillers dark grains
Bull finishing diet  

85.30

 

12.85 14% 6.5:1 Rolled barley and wheat, biscuit meal, chopped straw, molasses and protein
Heifer finishing diet 53.7 12.30 12.5% 7.9:1 Maize and grass silage TMR with cereals, biscuit meal and wheat distillers dark grains

Source: David Hendy, independent beef and sheep nutritionist

 15UpperCourt 1

Figure 2: Upper Court Farm Feed costs based on current feed prices:

  DM % Cost/tonne

fresh-weight

Cost/tonne

Dry Matter

Cost/head/day Cost/kg gain L-Wt gain /head/day
Creep Feed 85.30 £121.4 £142.7
Bull finishing diet  

85.30

 

£124.6 £146.5 £1.45 £0.79 1.85kg
Heifer finishing diet 53.7 £64.5 £119.4 £1.43 £0.96 1.5kg

Source: David Hendy, independent beef and sheep nutritionist

Mr Hendy explains the critical point with the calf creep and bull beef cereal mixes is to maximise digestible fibre levels whilst capitalizing on performance and intake and therefore feed conversion ratio, (FCR). Optimum daily intake and the very positive FCRs have been ensured by Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF) being as close or over 20% and including high fibre feeds such as whole oats in the calf mix and an appropriate balance of barley and wheat in the bull mix, and with up to 5% inclusion of molasses.

Tom says: “We believe in growing the calves as fast as we can pre weaning because that’s when their feed conversion is at its best – it’s the cheapest time to feed them. That’s why the creep diet is really important.

“Following on, we were struggling to get the bulls to target weight and with enough cover within 16 months whilst feeding a traditional forage based TMR, whereas nowadays, since introducing a cereal based diet formulated to specific specification, they are finishing to target weight at 14 months. The new regime is proving to be much more cost effective. We’re also tweaking the diet to ensure the bulls finish within ABP’s maximum 420kg deadweight to avoid penalties. 

“The heifers continue to be housed throughout the finishing period; feeding a homegrown forage TMR is proving to be the most cost effective and efficient.”

Tom adds: “We will shortly be introducing a crush with weigh scales which together with EID will provide us with an opportunity to regularly record each animal, identify any slack in the system and fine tune accordingly.”

????????????????????????????????????


November 26, 2015 Charolais features in top Scottish beef herds

Congratulations to the Watson family on winning the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year.

Watson

Peter Watson and his sons, Adam and David who farm 1,350 acres at Darnford, Banchory use Charolais as the terminal sire over their 426 cow Salers cross suckler herd and steers and heifers finish to an average 380kg within 20 months.

Iain Malcolm, Wester Coilechat, Callander was one of the two runners up. Farming 2,700 upland acres, the cattle enterprise includes 190 spring calving Shorthorn cross cows with the majority put to the Charolais. The enterprise is underpinned by a deferred grazing system whereby cattle are wintered on the high hill.

Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead who presented the award at Agriscot said: “Family farms like Darnford are the backbone of our livestock industry. This year’s winner and the other finalists should be commended for their commitment to building sustainable and viable farming businesses which auger well for the future of the beef industry in Scotland.”   Peter Watson commented: “We are very much a family-run business and it is great that a commercial enterprise like ours has been recognised in this way. The farm is very much a team effort with the family, sons David and Adam and their wives, Aynsley and Lynne as well as neighbouring farmers, Linda Stewart, Allan Melvin and Grant Milne who are all involved. We have been steadily increasing our herd numbers in recent years and we are confident about the future of our enterprise and in beef production in Scotland and plan to continue to increase our herd size.”

The Agriscot QMS organised award aims to showcase excellence in the production of cattle in Scotland and raise the profile of the dedication and stock management skills behind the production of Scotch Beef. The judges, Robert Neill and Douglas Bell based their decisions on evidence of a high standard of technical and financial performance, uptake of new ideas to improve efficiency and profitability, a high level of health and welfare and a keen eye on the market for the end product. They also looked to gauge the passion and enthusiasm of the farmer, and family and staff where relevant, to efficiently produce high quality animals.


Older articles »« Newer articles