Holstein bulls achieve daily live weight gains as high as 2kg on a Co Armagh beef unit that hosted an AgriSearch Research Challenge Fund farm walk.
Organised with AFBI and CAFRE staff, including local beef advisor Albert Johnston, this event demonstrated how better beef production both boosts bank balances and curtails carbon footprints!
Coming into beef farming from the poultry business host farmer Eric Reid applied many lessons learned in whitemeat production, not least keeping a firm focus on measuring and monitoring animal performance.
Eric Reid and son Gary farm 155 acres near Richhill where they finish around 320 cattle each year. Holstein bulls are bought as lightweight stores weighing from 270kg to 370kg each spring and turned out to grass with minimal concentrates over the summer. They are then housed in mid-September and fed silage plus concentrates to finish aged 18 months.
Cattle are weighed every five weeks and their temperature checked to ensure good health and good progress is being maintained. By regular measurement and modifying diets in line with animal performance Eric has achieved excellent liveweight gain from grass and grass silage.
On grazed grass his stock are averaging 0.85 kg DLWG and during the finishing stage on grass silage and concentrates they are averaging 1.5kg DLWG. Indeed Eric has measured daily liveweight gains as high as 2kg / day with Holstein Bulls.
On average the Reids are slaughtering these bulls at 18.3 months with a typical carcass weight of 357kg, conformation grade of R and fat class 3. This is done on 470kg of concentrate to leave a gross margin of £125 per head.
Commenting on these outstanding results Jason Barley from AFBI Veterinary Sciences Division highlighted the impact of calf ill health on long term performance. Focusing on the impact of Pneumonia in calves, the role of vaccination in helping prevent infection and all important management factors such as not mixing cattle from multiple sources, ensuring calves get adequate colostrum, maintaining adequate ventilation in housing and avoiding over crowding.
Dr Francis Lively, AFBI, Hillsborough then highlighted the key role of grazed grass in providing a high quality, cheap feed source for cattle. He also emphasised the importance of making good quality silage for finishing bulls and steers.
“To obtain a daily liveweight gain of 1kg on a 500kg steer poor quality silage requires 6kg of concentrate to be fed whereas the same liveweight gain can be a achieved with only 1.5kg of concentrate on good quality silage.”
His colleague from Hillsborough, Dr Steven Morrison then discussed results pooled from across Northern Ireland in the new BovIS system. This showed a wide variation in the weight of animals slaughtered by Ulster producers and a poor relationship between age at slaughter and carcass weight.
These results reveal that there is significant scope for improvement through targeted growth, the key message for the 120 plus full and part time farmers attending the Co Armagh event.