Beef producers are losing as much as £12.5 million a year
by marketing cattle with excess fat.
Left to right, Gordon Meek, Steve Powdrill, Deborah Hare, of ADAS,
Peter Dale, Geoff Simpson and Seth Wareing.
Northumberland beef farmers who attended an on-farm event in Ponteland
were urged to maximise the efficiency of their enterprises through
better nutrition, aiming to finish their cattle for a specific market
and cutting costs by making use of manure.
Former NFU county chairman Gordon Meek, who hosted the event at
Eland Hall Farm, Ponteland, finishes Blonde-sired cattle from his
40-cow mostly Simmental cross suckler herd as well as bought-in stores.
Cattle are mainly sold deadweight with steers at 22 to 24 months
old while heifers are finished at 18 to 20 months to private butchers
Steve Powdrill, of EBLEX, said finishing cattle without subsidies,
beef farmers needed to be focused on what they were producing and
what the marketplace required.
He said the majority of the market was looking for an R4L carcase
but he said he still saw cattle which were as much as fat class at
6 to 8 on the EUROP scheme.
“It’s a question of breeding for shape and feeding for
finish. Length and depth of loin is what is required – not
necessarily these huge rear ends,” he said.
By using the EBLEX “virtual cow” he illustrated the
skill of selecting cattle and the level of finish required both by
visual appraisal and by handling.
Carcases with inter-muscular fat had to be seamed out and were only
good for mince however, even basic mince needed to be 80 per cent
visual lean meat.
Key handling points were over the pin bones and on either side of
the tail head, the hindquarter, the loin, over the ribs and the chine
and the shoulder blade ridge.
He advised handling the left hand side of the beast as seen from
behind as large amounts of kidney fat on the right hand side could
Dark cutting meat was thought to be down to stress and this did
not sell well and its shelf life was also minimised.
Also he advised to avoid bruising - so check for protruding bolts
as ultimately the beef might not go to the market it was intended
for as a result.
The four recognised abattoir dressing specifications did not necessarily
mean that the highest price per kilo represented the most money in
your pocket. Between each of these specifications is a one per cent
killing out percentage.
Rations at Eland Hall cost 74p a day for the 350kg weaned calves,
based on 0.46kg rapeseed meal, 0.05kg minerals, 0.44kg straw, 0.83kg
grass silage, 2.58kg bread and 1kg chopped potatoes per head a day,
fed through a Keenan TMR wagon. The cattle are achieving a daily
liveweight gain of a kg a day.
The finishing cattle receive double the amount of the ration ad
lib with a DLWG of 1.6-1.7kg.
“If you are putting these expensive feeds into your cattle
you must ensure that you are getting the performance out of them,” said
Seth Wareing, from Keenan Rumans.
“People say they don’t have time to weigh their cattle
but if you look at 10 per cent of your cattle, identify them in some
way and record what you think the weight is then look at the group
in another month’s time to calculate their daily liveweight
“We want to build frame in the growing cattle and not push
for maximum liveweight gain then fill out the frame with flesh over
a maximum 90-day finishing period.”
He stressed the importance of maintaining as level a pH as possible
in the rumen to help the cattle convert the feed to flesh by buffering
with straw in the diet.
Mr Wareing advocated the use of more home-grown feeds such as sugar
beet, fodder beet and wholecrop maize which could work out cheaper
per tonne of dry matter than wheat at current prices. With grass
silage, reduce costs by making fewer, bigger cuts.
“Efficiency is something we need to consider. It’s something
that pig and poultry producers do and beef farmers need to get the
hang of it,”
Peter Dale, of ADAS, spoke of the need to carry out manure and fertiliser
planning against a background of rising fertiliser costs, increased
environmental pressure, catchment sensitive farming and changes in
While average fertiliser use was falling which was correct for some
but not for others so it was important to check soil analysis.
“Nearly 50 per cent of arable fields and 30 per cent of grassland
fields are at phosphorous index 3 or over so save money – little
or no P is needed,” he said.
He emphasised the value of manure. A typical application of dairy
slurry was worth £50 a ha, FYM from cattle worth £90
while broiler little valued at £150/ha.
Nitrogen was leached from manures applied in the autumn to both
arable and grassland.
He advised assessing how much fertiliser needed to be applied to
meet the crops’ requirements.
Use soil analysis every three to five years to know what the soil
would provide and allow for the N, P and K from organic manures and
select and apply the right fertilisers at the right amount and timing.
The meeting also heard from Geoff Simpson, of Simpson and Allinson,
Barnard Castle about the company’s innovative Roundhouse
farm building which helps bring cost and time savings and improved growth
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