February 28, 2013 Darnford use Charolais for top performance

 Watson Darnford 13The Watson family is among the hundreds of suppliers to one of Scotland’s major processors who are reaping the benefits of finishing Charolais cross cattle within the specification and to target weight faster than any other Continental cross cattle while measuring and monitoring their performance against the company’s monitoring programme.

“Both our Charolais cross Salers steers and heifers are finishing at average heavier weights and faster than the processor’s kill of all other Continental crosses,” says Adam Watson. “Our steers have that performance edge worth £249 a head and the females, £557, figures which we can’t deny we’re pleased about, yet we believe our cattle have the genetic potential for even better performance. There is always room for herd improvement.”

Mr Watson together with his father, Pete and brother, David manage Darnford, Durris, Banchory, a 1,500 mixed acre tenanted unit, the majority of which is in the SDA and carrying a 400 cow split calving Continental cross suckler herd which is gradually being replaced by Salers. “This is an extensive unit and every suckler has to justify her existence. Consequently we focus on maximising the number of kilos produced per cow from home grown resources; we produce high quality finished cattle whilst trading the pick of the crop through the Thainstone store ring and they invariably end up within the day’s top 10% of prices.”

Apart from heifers retained for replacement purposes, the rest of the Darnford calf crop are taken through to target finishing weight and sold to McIntosh Donald which offers support with its Qboxanalysis. The monitoring programme provides producers with comparative information on the on-farm performance of their own individual animals against the rest of the company’s kill, and ultimately enables them to make better on-farm management decisions.

Darnford’s Charolais cross steers are currently finishing at an average 400kg at 644 days, a heavier weight and nearly12 weeks faster than the Charolais crosses incorporated in to the Qboxanalysis and almost 14 weeks earlier than the 346,000 head of all other steers. See table 1. Similar trends are demonstrated by the heifers finishing on a similar regime at 352kg at an average 583 days.   

The Darnford cattle contribute to the Charolais crosses which make up almost 25% of McIntosh Donald’s total kill which finished at an average 352kgs within 682 days, 22 days earlier and 14kg heavier than the remainder – a mix of Continental cross and native breeds. Those performance benefits delivered by the Charolais crosses are estimated to leave an additional income of more than £125 a head over the remainder, when taking in the current 365p per kg average market price (R4L) and 350p per day costs.

Table 1: Finished cattle performance comparison, Charolais crosses v all others

All cattle


Char x

All others

Char x

All others






Ave dwt (kg)





Age (days)










             Source: McIntosh Donald Qboxanalysis

* Grading matrix takes in any figure below 4 as better than R4L

McIntosh Donald’s Murray Gibb explains: “The Qboxanalysis system is providing our suppliers with a quick, easy to access and highly accurate analysis of each animal’s classification for benchmarking purposes, both within their herd and as a performance guide against others. “The feedback also enables them to make more informed decision on their beef enterprise’s management practices. Farmers are encouraged to weigh their animals at a younger age, and thereafter more frequently, batch them according to weights rather than age and select more carefully those ready for slaughter.  Suckler producers may need to select more carefully their terminal sires while finishers need to review their feeding diets to achieve better weight gain and earlier finishing.”

At Darnford, the Qboxanalysis data is examined after each kill. “The figures are literally the proof of the pudding, and they help us to measure up how we are doing against the rest of the abattoir’s kill and reveal areas where we can improve,” says Mr Watson. “For example, we are keeping an eye on the steers; we believe they have real potential to step up performance.”

Currently, spring born steers are offered creep from an average five months to maximise growth at its most efficient; they’re weaned and housed at an average 340kgs and 240 days and overwintered on a diet supplying 32%DM, 12.3MJ/kg ME and 17.4% CP to achieve an average 0.8kg DLG and 500kg at spring turn out in April. They are grazed for four months achieving an average 1kg DLG prior to housing and finishing intensively on a TMR diet supplying 60%DM, 12MJ/kg ME and 14.2% CP to achieve 1.8kg DLG.

“We believe that 21 months to finishing is too long, and this last year’s poor season could be part to blame. Whatever, we need to pull back to at least 20 months. In fact we believe we have the cattle with genetics to finish to target weight at 16 months. We are planning to rearing one batch as a trial and see how they do.” The overwinter diet would be stepped up to achieve a higher liveweight gain.”

He adds: “Our beef enterprise and its performance is a moving target. Since 2008 we have focused on replacing a mixed Continental cross herd with Salers noted for their ease of calving and which we put to high index Charolais bulls. EID tagging  every animal, weighing the finishing cattle on a monthly basis and using Qboxanalysis for benchmarking purposes is enabling us to measure and monitor performance and indicate the opportunities for improved management. There is always room to improve herd efficiency.”



Categories: Commercial, News

» «