My parents and myself, Guy Prudom, rent three farms between us on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.
Northfields Farm, down by Runswick Bay is an arable unit with some permanent pasture. This where we bring the weaned calves from our suckler herd to be finished on a home grown ration of crimped grains, red clover silage and wholecropped beans.
Davison Farm and High Burrows are both upland units next to the moor where we run a herd of some 200 spring calving suckler cows. The herd comprises of 40% Simmental cross cows, 10 % Aberdeen Angus and now 40% Stabiliser. We run 4 Stabiliser bulls, an Angus and a Simmental (too attached to him to get rid of him).
If that was not enough to do, I was also lucky enough (depending on how you look at it), to be included in the AHDB Strategic Farm Programme. This has certainly shown our weaknesses and strengths through the Farmbench Costings Programme and through some of the expert advice we have received over the last two years. It has also been a fantastic way of learning new ideas and meeting fellow farmers through the events we have hosted for AHDB over the last two years.
The suckler cows are spring calving over about 12 weeks, the bulls are in for 10 weeks, there are always tail enders. The calving period will now be shortened down to 8 weeks over the next few years, to try and get a more even batch of calves at weaning. Weaning weight last year was around 285kg over the entire batch, this gave a cow efficiency score of about 43%. Cow efficiency is a measure of calf weight divided by cow weight x 100 and should be around 50%.
As part of the AHDB Scheme we wanted to look at setting up a paddock grazing system to boost grass utilisation and production. Paddocks of about 4 – 5 acres which are carrying up to 55 cows plus calves for 2-3 days grazing have been set up. This has meant that a paddock can be shut off and the grass baled, if grass growth has been getting a head of the cows. Our figures are showing grass growth this year of up to 9t/haDM, or 55t/ha fresh weight. This is a long way from our starting point of about 6t/ha DM.
The move to the Stabiliser cow was prompted by our need to increase herd size after coming out of an organic farming system in 2015. This was the only breed with a dedicated breeding programme with a herd health status. As the years have progressed we have become a lot more trusting of the EBV figures for the Stabiliser bulls.
Much more attention is also been given to dry cow management over winter with the suckler cows. First calvers are treated separately at grass and at housing, trying to make sure they are going to have their second calf at a body score of 2.5. Through AHDB we have been able to participate in a study on improving cow colostrum by including up to a kilogramme of hi pro soya in the month prior to calving and through the calving period. This has seen a marked improvement in calf health this spring, and hopefully into weaning weights this autumn.
Weaning takes place at the beginning of October, and this year two stage weaning is being tried. An anti-suckling plate is fitted to the calf 5 days prior to removal from the cow, along with pneumonia vaccines and a wormer. The theory being the cow gets used to not being suckled, the calf is forced to eat more grass and the vaccines and wormer are working before the calf is put into close proximity to his new house mates. When weaning proper occurs, the cow and calf are not fretting as much because she has not been suckled the previous week. The calf is now used to a solid feed diet, so the dip in growth rates post weaning should not be as great.
The weaned calves are then taken to the finishing unit and put on a ration of crimped grain, whole crop beans and red clover silage.
We have been using crimped grains since the mid 90’s, with the acid/ preservatives and a secondhand Korte 1400 being supplied by Kelvin Cave Ltd. Still got the same machine, and just had the roller cartridge refurbished last year, which has certainly improved throughput.
Whilst just starting the organic process, Micheal Carpenter, suggested using whole crop beans as another source of protein, energy and digestible fibre alongside the red clover and crimped grains for the weaned and finishing cattle. This certainly proved to be one of those eureka moments, which we have carried on with.
On the arable front crimped grains are harvested that much earlier and allows any problem fields to be dealt with. With the beans, whole cropping these in mid to late August means a lot earlier harvest date, storage in the silage pit and an excellent break crop, for our strip till establishment system using a Mzuri drill.
The ration for these finishing cattle is about 50% forage on a DM/kg basis. This is a marked difference to the old barley beef system plus protein pellets we were on back in the early 90’s. I am positive that this a better ration for the cattle as they are very content, laid out chewing their cud. The aim is to produce a good mix that is fluffy and appealing to the cattle, so floats in the top half of the rumen and is able to be broken down by the rumen bacteria. Not a mix that looks like stodge, that sits low in the cattle’s rumen where conditions for the bacteria needed to do their work is not good.
We are seeing less pneumonia problems as there is not the dust there was from the rolled barley, although our pneumonia vaccination plan for the weaned calves may have a lot to do with this! Growth rates are anywhere between 1 – 1.5kgdlwg, and do vary monthly which is very frustrating. Need to do a bit more tinkering here.
All cattle are sold deadweight through either Dawn Meats or Dovecote. The ceiling weight of around 380kg on a carcass has not adversely affected us. In fact it has made us look at how we can make it work to our advantage. Instead of putting the steers out to grass for a second summer, they remain housed and are being finished on average at 18months. The heifers that are let out to grass are weighed on a regular basis and anything over about 480kg is brought in and finished. Again the average finishing time is now down to 20months. This has meant more cattle are being sold finished through June to September when historically prices are slightly better and the buyers are short of stock. Didn’t work so well this year though.
For the future, who knows! As an industry we have certainly taken a kicking over the last few years. Brexit rumbles on and where or when it will ever be concluded is anyone’s guess. Various NGO’s laying into agriculture are not helping, but they are still wanting the lion’s share of whatever subsidy is on offer through BPS and Stewardship.
So all I can do is look at my own business, maximise the quality and quantity of grass we produce, use AHDB services attending their events or listening to the online posts, make sure I am getting the most from my home produced crimped grains and wholecropped beans to ensure my finished cattle are performing as well as they should and working as hard as me!