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    Forage Maize for Viable Large Scale Cattle Finishing
07/04/08

With cereal prices remaining firm at around the £160/t DM mark, an increasing number of traditional ad lib barley beef finishing systems are finding that they are having to make adaptations to their enterprise in order to remain profitable. At around £57/t DM, forage maize is definitely worth considering as a diet replacement according to one Yorkshire finisher.

Doug Dear and NK's Nigel Padbury

Doug Dear and NK's Nigel Padbury

Swapping an intensive barley-based beef finishing system for a total mixed ration featuring forage maize is enabling Doug Dear to maintain a viable large scale finishing enterprise at Osgodby Grange, Osgodby, Selby. “The time to finishing our monthly turnover of 40 black and white bulls to 300kg target deadweight has been reduced by an average of four weeks to 14 months, and feed cost has been virtually halved to 74p/kg liveweight gain,” he told more than 60 visitors at a joint NK and Keenan open day he hosted.

“The blueprint diet is enabling the bulls to achieve a DLWG of 1.4kg, with feed costs working out at £132/t DM to leave an acceptable margin over all feeds of £157 a head,” he said. “In fact, such is the new feed regime’s success that we plan to double the area of maize grown this year to 100 acres and include NK Bull, the highest yielding variety on the NIAB 2008 Forage Maize Descriptive List.

“One of our objectives had been to add value to our home-grown feed barley, and operating an intensive finishing system was profitable when the market price stood at £60/t. However, as the market firmed and headed towards £160/t, our costs flew out of the window and we had to sit down to consider the enterprise’s future,” explained Doug who farms the 750 arable acre unit in partnership with his parents, Alan and Elizabeth.

“We had gradually expanded the unit over the last 10 years to achieve an annual turnover of up to 600 finished bulls and we were reluctant to see it fold. We had constructed purpose built Dutch barn style accommodation, the system fitted in with our unit’s workload, and it provided a reliable monthly cash flow as well as added interest – we enjoy rearing stock.”

To remain profitable and enable as much grain as possible to be sold straight off the farm the Dears discussed introducing a high fibre finishing diet with vastly reduced levels of barley. They decided to purchased a Keenan Klassik 140 mixer wagon in order to incorporate alternative feeds and straw, and as part of the Keenan system they were offered nutritional support from Rumans. “We were set the task of formulating a simple system that would reduce feed costs, improve daily liveweight gain and reduce the time the animals are on farm,” explained Keenan Rumans consultant nutritionist, Seth Wareing. “We also monitor animal and ration performance to ensure that everything is going to plan. Within weeks, they found the blueprint feeding strategy was going a long way to achieving their goals.”

Doug, who each month buys in between 40 and 50, 12-weeks old black and white bulls to enter the unit’s rolling programme added: “A mixed ration is easy to feed out, the beasts like it and they appear more content. This high fibre diet is more natural, and it’s helped to virtually eliminate acidosis and other digestive upsets.” The diet’s base comprises forage maize with stock feed potatoes, fodder beet, protein, cereals and straw. Rolled barley now makes up just one third of the diet’s DM content and the Dears are currently considering replacing it completely with a biscuit meal or similar alternatives.

Growing maize at Osgodby Grange was a natural progression for the family and came at the expense of sugar beet, he said. “Growing beet is no longer worthwhile, so three years ago we introduced a trial 14 acres of maize into the rotation and we clamped it on the sugar beet concrete pad. We could see the benefits of adding forage maize to the bulls’ diet, so we expanded the area to 45 acres, and this year we’ve scheduled 100 acres in the cropping programme.”

Argrain’s Robin Rank explained: “The Dears are going for a crop with high digestible yield, so they want to harvest the maximum amount of energy from high volumes of digestible dry matter. NK Bull is a suitable top quality general purpose variety with the potential to make improvements on last year’s crop productivity.” At 111% of control, NK Bull has the highest available DM yield and the best score for digestibility at 11.5MJ/kg DM on the NIAB Descriptive List. It delivers an unbeaten 216,000MJ/ha and a very high starch content of 32.8%, the highest in its class. In addition, NK Bull also has a high vigour rating of 8.5 together with the list’s top rating for standing power.

Doug Dear added: “We’ve found that forage maize is a very good break crop in the arable rotation – it’s a perfect entry to winter wheats. We sow with a modified arable drill. Also we approach maize as an arable crop; it doesn’t like competition so we treat accordingly with pre and post-emergence broadleaved and grass herbicides. In future, we would like to grow more forage maize in order to include maize in the diet all year long. We would welcome the opportunity to rent a further 100 acres within an arable system.”

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