2013-10-09  facebook twitter rss

Win, Win All Round For Dairy Beef Scheme

An integrated rearing and finishing barley beef system brought together by First Milk, Harbro and Scotbeef could become a supply chain model for the beef industry.

The first batches of Holstein bulls have just been finished by Duncan Farms, Woodhead of Laithers, Turriff, Aberdeenshire for the initiative which brings together First Milk’s co-operative members, the nutritional expertise of Harbro and Scotbeef’s in-depth knowledge of the red meat market in a co-ordinated arrangement to create a market for dairy-bred calves which are often culled at birth.

Holstein Bulls

Duncan Farms cattle

“The scheme started three years ago as an animal welfare initiative in response to retailers refusing to buy milk from dairy farmers who were culling bull calves at birth because there was no market for them,” explains Robbie Galloway, managing director of Scotbeef.

“Harbro has devised a feeding regime for the calves which are reared by specialist rearers and moved on at 150kg to finishers.”

Scotbeef is now handling around 50 finished cattle a week reared in the scheme with most of the beef going to McDonald’s for burgers.

“It gives us additional throughput for our abattoir at Bridge of Allan at a time when cattle are in short supply and the beef is lean and ideal for the burger market,” said Mr Galloway.

Duncan Farms, the farming operation of former Grampian Food Group chairman, Fred Duncan, who farms around 9000 acres in the Turriff area, is the latest finisher to join the scheme.

“It is ideal for us as we have suitable buildings available which were previously used for the rearing of pigs for Vion and plenty of barley from our extensive arable operation,” says Duncan Farms’ chief executive, Dave Green.

“We also have the knowledge and experience of intensive livestock production from our involvement in pig production.”

A protocol for the rearing of the calves from birth to slaughter has been drawn up by Willie Thomson, technical director of Harbro, which rearers strictly follow to ensure high health and good performance.

This starts on the farm of birth where dairy farmers are required to feed a dry cow diet designed to produce high quality colostrum, ensure calves receive colostrum within six hours of birth followed by a specific milk replacer, treat navels with iodine shortly after birth and keep calves in straw-bedded accommodation which is regularly disinfected.

To ensure good health, the temperature of the calves is checked before they move to two specialist rearers, Stuart Reid, Cauldhame, Stewarton, Ayrshire and Archie Hamilton, Barrasgate, Cummertrees, Dumfries-shire at 14-21 days of age.

Calves are kept in individual pens for the first two weeks in a well-ventilated building and fed high quality Harbro Buttercup calf milk replacer from an Urban computerised calf milk dispenser until weaned when eating 1kg/day of Harbro Buttercup Calf Starter pellets at around seven weeks of age. Milk is reduced gradually over 10 days before weaning to reduce stress.

The designated vaccination programme covers BVD, Lepto, IBR, pneumonia and Bluetongue and growth rates are monitored to benchmark performance. Calves are vaccinated for pneumonia on arrival on the finisher’s farm and a second dose of Rispoval is given for IBR during the finishing period – the first dose having been administered by the rearer.

“Good hygiene practice and regular health assessment of calves is vitally important,” says Mr Thomson.

Reared calves arrive at Duncan Farms every two weeks and remain in the same batch in airy straw-bedded courts throughout the finishing period to avoid the problems which could arise with mixing bulls. It is important that the batches of calves are of similar weight at the start.

A medicated diet is fed for the first 10 days to help the calves get over the stress of travelling and the high density finishing diet, devised by Harbro and designed to maintain rumen health, comprises 95% home-grown barley and Harbro’s Buchan Bull 55, a fully mineralised 55% protein concentrate which has stood the test of time.

Extra zinc is included to improve hoof strength, molasses is added to improve palatability and Alkacid to prevent acidosis.

“The diet is very similar to the original diet developed by Dr Reg Preston at the Rowett Research Institute in the early days of barley beef,” says Mr Thomson.

The cattle are fed ad lib and the Feedmix mobile mixer comes in once a week to bruise and mix the 40 tonnes of barley required every week to feed the 800 bulls on the farm. Each bull will eat 2.0 – 2.2 tonnes of barley through to finish at around 13 months of age. A weigh cell on the loader allows feed intake to be carefully monitored for each batch.

“The system doesn’t require a lot of labour as we top up the feed hoppers three or four times a week with a telescopic loader and bed with a telescopic spread-a-bale system which means no one is required to go into the pens,” says Mr Green.

An “all in, all out” system is operated to avoid mixing cattle from different batches and finished cattle are marketed at around 520kg to produce a carcase of 260-270kg.

“It is important to get the cattle away as soon as they are ready as feed conversion efficiency drops dramatically after they start laying down fat,” says Mr Green. “We are achieving a daily liveweight gain of 1.25kg over the 260 day finishing period and a conversion ratio of 5:6 to 5:7.

“You don’t expect Holsteins to hit the top grades but we are really pleased with their performance and the economics should be even better now with the fall in the price of barley.”

Mr Green adds: “It is an excellent scheme which gives us a guaranteed supply of calves. It also gives Scotbeef a guaranteed supply of cattle for a specific market.

First Milk farm services manager, Stuart Neish, says the co-op’s supermarket customers for milk are particularly pleased that the practice of culling bull calves at birth is being phased out and dairy farmers are getting value for their bull calves through the scheme.

“It is working well, the farmers involved are happy and it fits in to the sustainable philosophy of First Milk and its supermarket customers.”


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