Improved feed conversion rates and liveweight gains have
been the result of altering the diet for beef breeding and
store cattle on a Scottish Borders upland farm.
|Saler cows with
their Charolais cross calves and
Monthly weighings of youngstock over the last two
years have shown that heifers and commercial bullocks at Poldean,
Wamphray, near Moffat have averaged more than 1kg daily liveweight
gain while pedigree bulls have easily achieved 1.75kg.
Willie Davidson, who runs Poldean with his wife Jennifer
and son Alisdair attributes the improvement to the switch
from a pelleted feed in his complete diet feeder to a custom-made
meal geared to optimising rumen function.
The Davidson’s farm almost 2,000 acres that climbs
from 270ft to 1,760ft, running 300 cows, including a small
number of pedigree Charolais alongside a majority of Salers,
a third of which are now pedigrees.
The French Salers breed, which is reknowned for easy calving
and good milk production, has been at Poldean since the early
1990s, but when the farm’s beef cattle and sheep were
culled out in the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic the Davidsons
had to re-establish their herd. This created the opportunity
to purchase foundation stock from France, including the bull
that was champion at the local show in the Salers region.
Now the aim is to minimise disease problems by running a
closed breeding policy, with only Charolais and Salers bulls
bought in as well as rams for the 500 ewe Lleyn flock.
Half the cows go to the Charolais and the remainder to the
Salers, and the original thinking of sticking with pure breeds
for the crossing programme - as they do in France - was that
it made for a more consistent product and avoided the Holstein
influence found in many cross suckler cows today.
“Currently the cattle are a mix of pedigree and commercial
although the aim is to go totally pedigree Salers,” said
Willie Davidson, who is not one for following the local trend
as visitors to Poldean when it hosted Scotsheep in 2004 discovered.
“We’re finding that there is a big demand for
Salers bulling heifers whether pure bred or almost pure bred.”
The main calving period is May and June, with bullocks and
Charolais heifers not for breeding sold the following May
as yearling stores in Lanark, Lockerbie and Castle Douglas.
The calves are introduced to creep feed in September while
still outside to get them eating feed and to reduce stress
at housing time, helping to prevent pneumonia.
At housing, which can be from late September to the beginning
of November, they are fed a complete diet of silage and the
“We switched to the meal two years ago on the advice
of Bill Souter, nutritionist with Davidson Brothers, of Shotts,
“He advised using the meal in the mix with clamp silage
to prevent the cattle sifting out the concentrate. It’s
a very simple system. The calves are fed ad-lib and we analyse
the silage each month and alter the diet according to the
silage quality and the growing needs of the cattle.
“We have also weighed the calves every month for the
last two years. This is a very important aid to management,
with the weights showing if something is not right with the
cattle. We also get the chance to get a close look at the
calves, and handling keeps them quiet. We record all the weights
“Previously the calves were fed concentrate twice a
day, but under the new system the cattle are more content.
The improvements we have seen have come about through the
combination of all these components.”
The meal contains three types of cereal to provide a balanced
energy release from starch, plus digestible fibre for slow
energy release in the form of beet pulp. There is also a concentrated
alfalfa extract to simulate eating quality akin to grass fed
beef, a rumen protected high-energy oil, and seaweed meal
to promote health.
Improved rumen function is achieved through the inclusion
of Alltech’s live yeast culture Yea-Sacc1026. This product
works by stimulating the fibre-digesting bacteria in the rumen
and therefore improves the utilisation of the ration, and
in particular the forage component. In beef cattle the proven
effects are to improve intakes, increase growth rates, and
generally boost the condition of the animal.
The improved system benefits all the youngstock. Between
10 and 15 Salers breeding bulls are sold off the farm each
year at one to two years old mainly to commercial producers
in the north of Scotland.
Mr Davidson says the feeding regime gives the bulls bone
structure and grows them well, but not to the extent of fattening
them so that they ‘melt’ when they go out to work.
Likewise bulling heifers sold through Castle Douglas mart
mainly into Aberdeenshire are in a fit condition with 15 month
old heifers averaging just under £600 – and probably
more with the lifting of the OTMS.
The heifers have plenty of growth and are big enough to calve
at two years old.
Store cattle have recently sold to £588 for a pen of
six 11-month-old Charolais cross bullocks at Castle Douglas,
with Charolais cross heifers making to £480 at Lockerbie.
with the show cow
A past chairman and current president of the Salers Cattle
Society, Mr Davidson, along with his wife Jennifer, also shows
In 2005 they won the bull of the year title awarded by the
society with their imported bull Portos, which was male champion
at both the Royal Highland and Royal shows and reserve supreme
champion at the Highland last year. They also won female of
the year in 2005 with their cow Chapelpark Trudy, now carrying
her third calf, which was Royal Show supreme champion.
© Copyright 2006 Jennifer
MacKenzie All Rights
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