Why Charolais Article 1

Simon Marsh, Senior Lecturer – Beef Cattle Specialist, Harper Adams University College, Newport, Shropshire, TF10 8NB

Introduction:

Latest EBLEX costings reveal that Average and Top 1/3rd upland suckler producers recorded gross margins of £266 and £312 per cow respectively. However when fixed and non-cash costs are deducted this leaves a net margin of minus £299 and minus £176 per cow respectively. Suckled calf producers are therefore using their Single Farm Payment (SFP) to stay in business. This is not sustainable and beef producers must focus on improving technical efficiency if they are to avoid using their SFP to continue in beef production.

The concept of the ‘Harper Adams Beef Focus Farm’ is to identify top 1% beef producers whose physical performance data would be independently monitored, reported and demonstrated. The beef industry needs to hear and see how farms recording top 1% performance is achieved and maintained which will be reported in the Farmers Weekly.

Top 1% performance: A ‘top 1%’ suckler beef producer would be operating ‘text book’ herd management. Their system would include factors such as; compact calving, utilisation of hybrid vigour within the breeding programme; use of top 1-10% Terminal Index herd sires with focus on calving ease, growth and muscle depth EBV’s; maximising use of home grown feeds and fodder with appropriate body condition score management; focus on grassland management; creep feeding etc… The farm needs to operate an ‘easy care’ suckler system within a low fixed cost structure.

One such producer, Simon Frost at Youlgreave in Derbyshire, has been identified. Simon runs a herd of spring calving Limousin x Holstein sucklers. Cows are put to Charolais bulls with top 1-10% Terminal Indexes with focus on calving ease, 400 & 600 day growth, eye muscle area and negative fat depth EBV’s. The calves are sold at weaning to Alan and John Dore at Chesterfield and intensively finished. Reputedly, last year 56 bull calves recorded a carcase weight of 438kg at 447 days old, which indicates phenomenal performance! Cow and calf performance will be independently monitored during 2010 and 2011 by Simon Marsh.

Not everything of course runs smoothly and the ‘trials and tribulations’ of maintaining top 1% performance will be documented! The current issue Simon Frost is dealing with is the accuracy of EBV’s of young bulls!

Simon Frost: Simon Frost’s farm (Hopping Farm) is at Youlgreave in the Derbyshire peak district. It is an upland farm which consists of some 420 acres, which includes 80 acres of rough hill ground, in an area with 34” of rain at an average of 800’ above sea level. Soil type is classified as reasonably light loam/clay over limestone. The land is noted for problems with copper deficiency due to the soil containing high levels of molybdenum locking up the available copper.

Simon keeps a herd of Limousin x Holstein cows which are put to high terminal index Charolais bulls. He also has a flock of 315 North Country mules put to Suffolk tups.

The suckled calves are sold direct off farm to Alan and John Dore at Glapwell near Chesterfield which also sees a reciprocal trading arrangement supplying straw to Simon Frost.

The following is a broad outline of Simon’s suckler herd and John and Alan Dore’s finishing unit. Subsequent articles will go into significant depth and detail. Simon Frost and the Dore’s frequently host visits by Harper Adams students. The visits prove so beneficial to the students and they see what can be achieved by top 1% performance. The best time to visit is just after calving when the students see new dropped calves. Many students comment that the calves don’t look very big or impressive, but the answer to that is that if you choose easy calving bulls then you are going to get modest sized calves that are born alive and not dead! When the students then see the bulls at the Dore’s that are 12 months older there is ‘sheer and utter silence and a dropping of jaws’ as they cannot believe how much the bulls have grown!

Simon Frost’s suckler herd: The herd consists of 125 spring calving Limousin x Holsteins which start calving on the 10th of February. The herd is put to high terminal index Charolais bulls and current herd sires include Balthayock Clifford (Terminal Index +45 – a top 1% bull) Hookcarr Arney (Terminal Index +39) and Littlebovey Altra (Terminal Index +33). Total faith is placed on selecting bulls using EBV’s with focus on calving ease, birth weight, growth, muscle depth retail beef yield and negative fat scores. Hookcarr Arney has now been culled. Simon aims to buy the elusive ‘curve bender’ bulls. These are bulls with low birth weights and very high growth rates.

Some 25 replacement bulling heifers are purchased each year from a local dairy farm. Unlike many other suckler producers the Holstein influence in the beef cow holds no fears for Simon since it gives plenty of milk for high calf growth rates and running a three way cross breeding programme maximises hybrid vigour and hence improves fertility which is a notoriously bad trait for the Holstein.

Cows stay indoors after calving aiming to turn out before the 23rd of April before lambing starts. Cows with bull calves at foot are run separately from cows with heifer calves. The stock bulls go into the herd on the 7th of May to the replacement heifers and 13th of May to the rest of the herd. The bulls are rotated every 3 weeks. Creep feeding starts with the bull and heifer calves in early and late August respectively feeding up to a maximum of 1.5kg per calf. The calves therefore go to the Dore’s ‘knowing what concentrates are’ but they are not fed ad lib. The key is to continue to grow frame, especially with the heifers, at this stage.

The calves are weaned in October and 2 weeks prior they are vaccinated with Rispoval4® (Pfizer Animal Health) to minimise respiratory disorders. They have their backs clipped out and treated with Closamectin® (Norbrook) and sold to the Dore’s for intensive finishing. The cows are then put onto rough hill grazing for 4 days to dry off then put onto deferred grazing to gain body condition prior to housing.

The calf weaning weights this year were 391kg @ 212 days equating to a 200 day weight of 370kg and DLWG of 1.63kg. The heifers were 329kg @ 221 days equating to a 200 day weight of 302kg and DLWG of 1.31kg. When this is benchmarked against EBLEX recorded producers (see table below) this is some 43% and 36% higher than Average and Top 1/3rd producers respectively which is tremendous performance. Simon Frost’s motto is “Growth is King”.

Table 1. Calf weaning weights at Hopping Farm compared to EBLEX recorded LFA suckler herds.

EBLEX

S Frost

Average

Top third

Bulls

Heifers

Average

Wean age

246

239

212

221

217

Wean wt

294

298

391

329.5

360

DLWG

1.03

1.08

1.63

1.31

1.47

200 day wt

246

256

370

302

336

The cows are cubicle housed in the winter and feeding is based on restricted big bale silage plus straw to hold or manipulate cow condition so that the cows are ‘fit not fat’ at calving i.e. condition score 2.

With regard to cattle health, the cows are given 2 Cosecure boluses twice per year in spring and autumn. First and second calvers are vaccinated with Rotavac to prevent Rotavirus. High magnesium/copper molassed mineral buckets are fed free access throughout the year with average consumption being 55g/cow/day i.e. 20kg/cow/year.

Last year the herd recorded 92% calves sold per 100 cows put to the bull which is higher than EBLEX recorded Average and Top 1/3rd producers with 89.5% and 90.5% respectively.

Alan & John Dore: The Dore brothers run Home Farm at Glapwell near Chesterfield. The farm consists of some 1,200 acres of which 200 are down to grass with the remainder growing barley, wheat and oilseed rape. Soil type is medium loam to clay and rainfall is 23” on land at 750 feet above sea level.

The Dore’s intensive beef finishing enterprise:

Some 600 cattle are finished each year which includes bulls, steers and heifers of continental breeding. Charolais and Limousins are favoured but the Dore’s have also finished Simmental and Bazadaise crosses. Stock are purchased either from market or privately. The majority of the 600 head are suckled calves purchased @ 350-400kg which includes those from Simon Frost.

All cattle are finished on good quality big bale silage supplemented with a 16% CP barley based ration containing Hi-pro Soya and Linseed fed at restricted levels initially to grow frame, especially to the heifers, and then increased to ad lib to put on finish.

The suckled calves are finished at up to 20 months old at weights ranging from 370-500kg carcase weights for bulls and steers and 290-320kg for heifers. As mentioned previously the last batch of Simon Frost’s bulls recorded a carcase weight of 438kg at 447 days old (14.6 months), which is exceptional performance. The Dore’s also buy 150 twelve week old Belgian Blue x Holstein bulls which are finished @ 360-380kg carcase weights.

The cattle are all sold dead weight mainly to Kepak but also to Dunbia and Woodheads.

Maximising efficiency in suckled calf production:

The key area’s identified in maximising efficiency and hence profit in suckled calf production are as follows:

1. Maximise economies of scale and focus on output

1. Easiercare’ systems with low labour requirements

1. Maximise hybrid vigour and focus on breed improvement i.e. use Top 1-10% Beef Value/Terminal Index sires that have very high 400 and 600 day weights, muscle scores, negative fat depth and are easy calving i.e. ‘curve benders’

2. Use easy calving bulls identified by calving ease EBV’s with high accuracy figures. Don’t be afraid to buy ‘ugly bulls’ if their EBV figures are good. Too many buyers of bulls are obsessed with buying masculine pretty faced bulls with big back sides! We need breeding bulls with easy calving, growth, width and depth of body and ‘an extra rib’. The highest priced part of the carcase is the loin so why are too many pedigree breeders obsessed with bulls with big back ends!

3. Improve herd fertility and block calve. Data from Herdplus in Northern Ireland and a recent EBLEX survey shows the average calving interval is 399 days, calving rate was 88.3% (similar to EBLEX Business Pointers data) so therefore there are 80.8 calves produced per 100 cows in a calendar year. This is dreadful performance! The target is a minimum of 95 calves per 100 cows per 365 days.

4. Correct cow condition scores especially at bulling. The target is a minimum of 2.5.

5. Improve calf DLWG’s and reduce slaughter age. The current target is now to wean a calf @ 50% of the cow weight and look at suckler cow efficiency i.e. target 50+kg calf weaned [200 day wt] per 100kg cow weight. Earlier slaughter reduces the carbon footprint of beef production.

6. Focus on feed costs and quality and maximise utilisation of home grown forage. Reduce wintering and fixed costs by out-wintering however in certain parts of the country I accept that this is not possible which is the case with Simon Frost!

7. High levels of health care to minimize cow and calf losses. Calves with a disease challenge will not thrive.

8. Focus on marketing. Target either the commodity or niche beef market and produce beef as efficiently as possible. There are critics of bull beef production and Continental breeds so if Native breeds are reared on extensive systems they must obtain significant premiums in the market place. Producers must still focus on rearing beef cattle as efficiently as possible using.

Cattle performance will be accurately monitored by Harper Adams. The information presented will be ‘fact and not fiction’ which sometimes can be the case with figures presented by certain breed societies and feed companies!