Why Charolais Article 7

Bull Calf Finishing Results


This is the seventh in a series of 12 articles on Simon Frost’s suckler herd at Youlgreave in the Peak District. Simon achieves top 1% performance with his upland herd of 125 Limousin x Holstein-Friesian cows put to Charolais bulls which is the basis of the Farmers Weekly/Harper Adams Beef Focus Farm concept. The Charolais bulls have top 1-5% Terminal Indexes with focus on calving ease, growth and muscle EBV’s. The calves are sold at weaning to Alan and John Dore at Chesterfield and intensively finished.

This article reports the finishing results of the 2010 born bull calves. The results for the heifers will be reported in a subsequent article.

Bull finishing results Easy calving and aiming for the highest possible daily carcase gain are the key drivers of profitability in suckled calf production. Simon Frost achieves top 1% herd performance by focusing on these traits by using Charolais bulls with positive Calving Ease Direct EBVs and making sure that his Limousin x Holstein-Friesian suckler cows are in lean condition (score 2) at calving. High daily carcase gains are achieved by using bulls with high EBVs for growth and muscle area alongside focus on herd health and nutrition throughout the production cycle. The Charolais bulls used by Simon are termed as ‘curve benders’ since they have top 1-5% Terminal Indexes and are easy calving bulls as well as having very high growth rates. The calves are sold at weaning in mid October to Alan and John Dore at Glapwell near Chesterfield and intensively finished.

The bull calves arrive at the Dore’s having been creep fed up to a maximum of 1.5kg per head per day from early August prior to weaning in October. The calves therefore go to the Dore’s ‘knowing what concentrates are’ but they are not fed ad lib. The bull calf weaning weights last year were 391kg at 212 days old equating to a DLWG of 1.63kg from birth.

Two weeks prior to weaning the calves are vaccinated with Rispoval4® (Pfizer Animal Health) to minimise respiratory disorders. They have their backs clipped out and treated with Closamectin® (Norbrook). The bulls are finished on a barley based home mix with ad lib top quality big bale silage.

The 56 Charolais bulls finished this year achieved a mean carcase weight of 427kg at 415 days of age which is just over 13½ months old (see table 1). The recognised industry target (EBLEX 2005) for intensively finished suckled bulls is a slaughter weight of 590kg at 14 months old. If a killing out percentage of 60% is assumed this equates to a carcase weight of 354kg. Simon Frost’s bull calves have ‘blown this target out of the water’.

28.6% of the bulls recorded E grades for conformation, 67.8% graded U and only 3.6% R which is out-standing and contrary to many beef producers’ thoughts that there are alternative breeds that have superior conformation to the Charolais. Simon Frost selects terminal sires with very high Eye Muscle Area EBVs as well as bulls with positive Calving Ease Direct and high 400 day weight EBVs. His target Eye Muscle Area EBV is +6.0sq cm compared to the breed average of +2.9 which is a major contributory factor to the excellent carcase grades being achieved. The bulls recorded a mean fat score of 3.26 (scale 1-5) and graded either fat class 3 or 4L so there were no issues of carcasses being ‘too lean’.

The bulls killed out ‘gut full’ at 59.8% which equates to a live slaughter weight of 714kg and hence DLWG from weaning to slaughter of 1.59kg with a birth to slaughter DLWG of 1.62kg. Since breeds vary in their killing out percentage it is more appropriate to calculate and quote daily carcase gains. To do this requires the birth carcase weight to be deducted and the standard practice is to take 24kg off the carcase weight to account for the birth weight. When this is done Simon Frost’s bulls have recorded a phenomenal daily carcase gain from birth to slaughter of 0.97kg per day.

Table 1. Hopping Farm bull finishing results.

Live wt at weaning (kg) 391
Days weaning to slaughter 203
Live wt at slaughter (kg) 714
DLWG weaning to slaughter (kg) 1.59
Days birth to slaughter 415
DLWG from birth (kg) 1.62
Kill out % 59.8
Carcase weight (kg) 427
Daily carcase gain from birth (kg) 0.97
% E grades 28.6
% U grades 67.8
% R grades 3.6

Note: Carcase birth weight was assumed to be 24kg

Last year’s bull calves recorded a slaughter weight of 438kg at 447 days old equating to a daily carcase gain from birth of 0.94kg. This year’s bulls have shown an improvement with a daily carcase gain of 0.97kg. The target for next year is 1.00kg.

Feeding management and FCRs The bulls are a fed a 16% CP barley mix containing Hi-pro Soya and Linseed Flakes. The Dore’s believe that it is essential that suckled bulls with exceptional growth potential need highly digestible by-pass protein sources to maximise lean tissue deposition. Details of the Dore’s finishing ration were presented in the 4th FW article dated 6 May 2011.

The average daily feed rate of barley mix from weaning to slaughter is 6.8kg. On arrival the bulls get 4.1kg/h/d of barley mix which is fed twice per day and after a fortnight gradually increased to 5.9kg. The ration is then tweaked up to 8.2kg per head per day to get adequate fat cover (3-4L) on the bulls. The finishing ration is fed to appetite twice per day in troughs which means that the bulls always have an edge to their appetite which is different compared to offering feed via a hopper. The calves are also offered ad lib top quality (50.8% DM, 13.6% CP, 11.6 ME) big bale grass silage and intakes averaged 4kg per bull per day.

Table 2. Bull calves feed intakes and FCR.

Concentrates (kg/bull) 1,384
FCR (kg concs: kg gain) 4.03:1
Kg silage (kg DM in brackets) 812 (412)
Finishing FCR (kg DM: kg lwt gain) 4.74:1
Lifetime Concs FCR (kg: kg lwt gain) 2.08:1

The bulls converted their feed with incredible efficiency with an FCR of 4.74(kg DM):1 compared to the recognised target of 5.0:1. If the lifetime concentrates FCR is calculated including the 90kg of creep feed this equates to a lifetime concentrate FCR of 2.08:1 which is better than finishing pigs and close to broiler chicken FCRs! If the FCR is calculated based on kg feed dry matter per kg carcase gain then it is 2.96:1. I recognise that the calves were also fed cow’s milk (produced from grass) and silage but this cannot be used by humans and is a different angle to consider when beef production is considered to be inefficient compared to pig and poultry meat production.

Bull calves from Cows and 1st Calved Heifers Charolais bulls are also used on the bulling heifers which is a strategy few suckler producers would ever consider. This decision is taken based on the confidence in the bulls Calving Ease Direct EBV which have a high accuracy percentage. The performance of the bull calves produced from the cows and first calved heifers in shown in table 3 and whilst the calves from the heifers had 16kg lighter carcase weights I estimate that if a different breed that is very easy calving had been used that the carcase weights would be some 80kg lighter on the same finishing system. The alternative would be finishing the calves on 24+month extensive system to achieve the same carcase weight thus virtually doubling their age at slaughter.

Table 3. Bull calves from Cows and 1st Calved Heifers.

Dam of bull calf Cow Heifer
Live wt at slaughter (kg) 718 693
Days birth to slaughter 415 414
DLWG from birth (kg) 1.63 1.57
Carcase weight (kg) 430 414
Daily carcase gain (kg) 0.98 0.95

Bull progeny comparison

The bull calf finishing results have been analysed for the progeny from two sires; Littlebovey Altra (Terminal Index +46 – a top 5% bull) and Balthayock Clifford (TI +62 – a top 1% bull). Altra is a very easy calving bull with a Calving Ease Direct EBV of +2.4% compared to Clifford which is a more difficult calver with an EBV of -2.8%. Clifford however has a very high 400day weight EBV of +62kg compared to Altra at +43kg and the breed average of +38kg.

Table 4. Bull calves from Top 1% and Top 5% Sires.

Sire of bull calf Altra (TI +46) Clifford (TI +62)
 Live wt at slaughter (kg) 682 752
 Days birth to slaughter 410 422
 DLWG from birth (kg) 1.57 1.68
 Carcase weight (kg) 410 449
 Daily carcase gain from birth (kg) 0.94 1.01

The data in table 4 clearly illustrates that EBVs work and show that Clifford calves recorded higher daily carcase gains with carcase weights some 39kg heavier. With a finished beef price of £3.30kg carcase weight this makes the Clifford calves worth some £129 more. If the cost of 3.4% mortality and slightly harder calving is factored into the calculation the net benefit for the Clifford calves is £74 per bull. This difference is greater than predicted by the EBVs of the bulls.

These results also mirror those found in a study recently carried out at Harper Adams when progeny from Limousin bulls with either a Top 1% or Top 10% Beef Value were compared. In this study the carcase weights were 14kg heavier for the Top 1% bull worth an extra £53. This again highlights that EBVs can underestimate the financial benefits of selecting Top 1% bulls and offers even more reasons why bull buyers should use EBVs as the basis for their selection and buy a bull with the best possible figures.

Bull calf finishing summary:

• Feed a high energy ration with good quality sources of protein

• Gradually build up concentrate feed rates and offer good quality silage

• Select for slaughter at fat class 3-4L and sell bulls at carcase weights required by the market

• Use Top 1-5% Terminal Index sires that are easy calving with high 400 day weights and negative fat EBVs


EBLEX Beef Action for Profit 5 (2005) Better Returns from Suckler-Bred Bulls. Huntingdon: English Beef & Lamb Executive.