Why Charolais Article 9

Heifer Calf Finishing Results

Introduction: This is the ninth 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 heifer calves.

The suckler herd Running a herd of small-medium sized milky beef cross dairy-bred suckler cows which are put to high index, easy calving, fast growing terminal sires is viewed by both Simon Marsh and Simon Frost as a blueprint for efficient and profitable suckled calf production.

Simon Frost achieves top 1% herd performance by using Charolais bulls with positive Calving Ease Direct EBVs and making sure that his spring calving Limousin x Holstein-Friesian suckler cows are in lean condition (score 2) at calving. By using bulls with high EBVs for 400 day growth the calves daily carcase gain can be maximised. These bulls which have top 1-5% Terminal Indexes are termed as ‘curve benders’. Last year the bull calves recorded a phenomenal DLWG of 1.63kg to weaning at 212 days old weighing 391kg. These excellent DLWGs are produced from a copious supply of milk from the Limousin x Holstein-Friesian cows which put their energy intake from cheap grazed grass into milk and not body condition.

The very high DLWGs are achieved without the calves being stuffed with creep feed which is only introduced in early August with the bulls and late August with the heifers. The creep is fed to a maximum of 1.5kg per calf day and is a 16% protein high NDF nut (Massey Feeds 16% CP X-Tender Nuts) with the objective of growing frame rather than putting on flesh. Feeding creep is an absolute essential priority since not only does it improve rumen development, it is also extremely efficient with the calves converting their creep at FCR’s at 3.5:1 but most importantly it helps minimise the growth check at weaning.

The calves are sold at weaning in mid October to Alan and John Dore at Glapwell near Chesterfield and intensively finished. They therefore arrive at the finishing unit knowing what concentrate feed is. They are wormed, vaccinated against pneumonia 2 weeks prior to weaning and have their backs clipped out.

The Dore’s finish some 600 cattle per year buying Continental bred bulls, steers and heifers either direct from farm or via markets. They appreciate knowing that the calves from Simon Frost are bred from high index bulls with exceptional growth potential. The question I would ask store buyers is that when they buy a tractor they look at the colour and age of the machine but always get a full breakdown of the spec of the machine. The industry needs to adopt this philosophy to buying store cattle since most buyers of store cattle only look at their colour, shape and age and then spend a lot of money on them without knowing their spec i.e. have they have been bred by high index bulls!

The results from Simon Frost’s 2010 born bulls are shown in table 1 which have been benchmarked against EBLEX targets. The 56 Charolais bulls from Simon Frost achieved a massive carcase weight of 427kg at 415 days of age which is just over 13½ months old. Simon Frost’s bull calves have smashed the EBLEX targets.

Table 1. Bull finishing results – EBLEX target vs S Frost’s bulls.


S Frost

Start wt (kg)



Slaughter age (mo)


13.6 (415 days)

Slaughter wt (kg)



DLWG (kg)



Kill out %



Carcase weight (kg)



Daily carcase gain from birth (kg)



Conformation class


29% E, 68% U, 3% R

Concs (kg/bull)


1,384 + 412kg DM silage

FCR (kg feed DM/kg gain)



Lifetime Concs FCR



Heifer finishing results It is well accepted that the problem with intensively finishing heifers is that since they are an early maturing breed type i.e. are easily fleshed, that they will finish at significantly lower slaughter weights compared to bulls. The strategy adopted by the Dore’s is feed the heifers top quality (11.6ME, 50.6% DM, 13.6% CP) big bale grass silage but with significantly lower home mix feed levels compared to the bulls.

‘As per’ the bulls the home mix fed to the heifers is formulated to contain 16% CP. It is based on rolled barley with some oats to take the heat out of the ration i.e. lower the starch content and provide some fibre, quality protein from hipro soya and linseed flakes with minerals. This might appear to be a ‘Rolls Royce’ feeding strategy but when you have high genetic merit stock with potential to record above average DLWGs they need this level of nutrition. There is a classic saying that ‘If you have a Formula 1 car you shouldn’t put diesel in it’ and this applies to Simon Frost’s calves!

The daily home mix feed rate to the heifers is fixed at 3.1kg per head which is fed in two feeds with ad lib access to silage. From 5 weeks prior to slaughter the home mix is increased to 5.7kg to accelerate DLWGs and get adequate fat cover to target fat class 4L, although getting sufficient finish on the heifers does not tend to be a problem.

The average carcase weight for all heifers slaughtered in the UK is 322 kg with a slaughter age of 712 days (23.3 months). Simon Frost’s heifers achieved a mean carcase weight of 313kg at just 447 days of age which is just over 14.6 months old. Compared to the UK average the heifers were therefore finished some 265 days (8.7 months) sooner which will help to reduce their carbon foot print. Full animal performance details are shown in table 2.

Table 2. Heifer calves finishing results.

Live wt at weaning (kg)


Live wt at slaughter (kg)


Days weaning to slaughter


DLWG weaning to slaughter (kg)


Days birth to slaughter

447 (14.6 months)

DLWG from birth (kg)


Carcase weight (kg)


Kill out


Daily carcase gain from birth (kg)


% E grades


% U grades


% R grades


% O+ grades


There were a range of fat classifications with 32.7

The heifers killed out ‘gut full’ at 56.0% which equates to a live slaughter weight of 559kg and hence DLWG from weaning to slaughter of 1.02kg with a birth to slaughter DLWG of 1.16kg. The daily carcase gain of 0.66kg was calculated based on taking off 20kg for the birth carcase weight which is industry practice.

% grading at fat class 3 and 53.1% at 4L which are the desired fat covers for most markets. Only 10.2% of the heifers graded 4H which aren’t usually penalised by the markets unless it’s O+ or worse for conformation. Just 2%, which was one heifer, unfortunately graded 5L. This fat classification is penalised by the market – typically being deducted between 20-30p/kg dcw from the base -price.

Feed use and FCRs As shown in table 3 the heifers converted their feed with an FCR of 6.59(kg DM):1. However since 51% of their feed requirements were supplied by grass silage the concentrate FCR during the finishing phase calculated to be just 3.75:1. If the lifetime concentrates FCR is calculated including the 70kg of creep feed this equates to a lifetime concentrate FCR of 1.79:1 which is better than finishing pigs and similar to broiler chicken FCRs! If the FCR is calculated based on kg feed dry matter per kg carcase gain then it is 3.17:1. 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.

Table 3. Heifer calves feed intakes and FCR.


Concentrates (kg/heifer)


FCR (kg concs: kg gain)


Kg silage (kg DM in brackets)

1,523 (771)

Finishing FCR (kg DM: kg lwt gain)


Lifetime Concs FCR (kg: kg lwt gain)


Compared to the bulls, Simon Frost’s heifers were slaughter slightly later and at significantly lower carcase weights. Based on current prices the bull carcasses are worth an extra £336 per head. However they consumed an extra 526kg of concentrates worth £92, but 359kg DM less silage worth £31. But if the extra 23 days taken to reach slaughter condition with the heifers is costed at 40p/day for variable costs such as straw then overall the bulls have grossed £314 higher than the heifers. Part of this difference will of course be reflected in the purchase price of the bulls compared to the heifers. Nevertheless an objective for the industry should be to develop synchronized AI breeding programmes to allow for the successful use of sexed semen that maximise conception and percentage of bull calves born. These are unfortunately a few years off.

Negative versus Positive Fat Depth EBVs One of the EBVs that Simon Frost focuses on is Fat Depth. He targets a Fat Depth EBV of minus 1.0mm compared to the breed average of minus 0.3mm. By using bulls with a large negative Fat Depth EBV the calves grow to heavier slaughter weights without laying down excessive fat, which is particular important for heifers. However a large negative Fat Depth EBV is not desirable for producers selecting bulls to breed herd replacements. Using a bull in this situation with a low or even positive Fat Depth EBV is important since the heifers when kept as suckler cows will more readily put on body condition which is vitally important for fertility and for mobilising over the winter thus reducing feed costs. In fact the British Charolais Cattle Society has now changed their position on the Fat Depth EBV and view negative scores as ‘a negative or undesirable trait’. This is because they feel that the breed needs to move towards easily fleshed cattle that can also finish successfully off forage based rations, and that cows will hold more body condition.

The heifer calf finishing results have been analysed for the progeny from two sires; Hookcarr Arney (Terminal Index +55 – a top 1% bull) and Balthayock Clifford (TI +62). Arney has a Fat Depth EBV of 0.0mm compared to the breed average of -0.3mm and Clifford has a negative Fat Depth EBV of -1.0mm. Both bulls have identical 400 Day Weight EBVs of +60kg compared to the breed average of +38kg.

Table 4. Heifer calves from Negative and Positive Fat Depth EBV Sires.

Sire of heifer calf

Arney (TI +55)

Clifford (TI +62)

Fat Depth EBV (mm)



Live wt at slaughter (kg)



Days birth to slaughter



DLWG from birth (kg)



Carcase weight (kg)



Daily carcase gain from birth (kg)



Conformation Score (1-5)

3.6 (R/U)

4.0 (U)

Mean fat score (1-5)



% Fat class 3



% Fat class 4L



% Fat class 4H



% Fat class 5L



The data in table 4 clearly illustrates again that EBVs work and show that Clifford calves recorded carcase weights some 23kg heavier but more importantly fat class scores were significantly lower with 92.9% grading in the target 3 and 4L category. With a base price of £3.25/kg for an R grade carcase with standard premiums for improved conformation and deductions for over-fat carcasses this makes the Clifford calves worth some £92 more per head. After the deduction of extra feed and variable costs for them to reach slaughter condition they still left a higher margin worth £63 per heifer. More importantly the carcases produced were at the required weights and grades for the majority of outlets.

This again highlights the financial benefits of selecting High Index bulls and offers even more reasons why bull buyers should use EBVs together with locomotion traits as the basis for their selection and buy a bull with the best possible figures.

Heifer calf finishing summary:

• Creep feed with a high NDF nut prior to weaning but don’t feed ad lib in order to grow frame

• Start the finishing period with a modest level of concentrates and increase as necessary to hit the target fat class

• Offer top quality forage with a high energy ration with good quality sources of protein

• Select for slaughter at fat class 3-4H at carcase weights

• Use sires with high Terminal Indexes with negative Fat Depth EBVs that are easy calving with high 400 day weights


EBLEX Beef Action for Profit 5 (2005) Better Returns from Suckler-Bred Bulls. Huntingdon: MLC.