Crimping case study

By-products, co-products and home-grown grains feed 4,500 head of beef

A substantial Northumberland farming operation which has exploited co-products throughout its development now finds the best performance comes from home-grown crimped grain. Farmer, Fraser Scott, explains why.

A rich seam of entrepreneurial spirit runs deep through the Scott family from Swarland near Alnwick which has seen its Northumberland farming business steadily grow into one of the largest producers of beef in the UK.

The farm today sends 90 head of cattle to its buyer every week, finished to the highest of specifications and meeting the demands of the UK’s most exacting retail outlets.

But Fraser Scott and his father, David, have built their business from small beginnings and reached the position of finishing 4,500 cattle every year by recognising and grasping every opportunity that has come their way.

David began by selling milk from half a dozen cows on the family’s morning round before he went to school;  progressed to selling rabbits, which he strung to his bike and delivered to local butchers; next added bantams to his range and eventually moved on to pigs.

The fact the move to pigs was built off the back of the swill from nearby RAF Boulmer is symptomatic of much that has followed, and the judicious use of by-products, co-products and the most cost-effective home-grown feeds has been a recurring theme.

The trading of livestock eventually evolved into the trading of land, and David’s unerring eye for the market allowed him to buy when it was down, sell when it was up and gradually build the collateral of the farming business, so laying the strongest foundations on which Fraser could build.

Today, newly ‘retired’ on the occasion of his 80th birthday, David maintains a part-time role as consultant, while Fraser continues to run the family show. Now totalling over 1,000 hectares (2,600 acres) and spread across numerous former holdings, the business of today – including The Chesters and Newton Villa Farm – is a feat of organisation and a model of business acumen it would be difficult to match.

As another new building now goes under construction at a cost of around £200,000, Fraser says: “It’s relatively easy to build a shed like this without finance today, but that was far from the case when we had our ‘big push’ around 10 years ago.”

The ‘big push’ to which he refers came when Fraser saw an opportunity his instincts told him to take.

“At the time, we had far fewer cattle and buildings and the farm was predominantly arable,” he says. “The opportunity arose for us to obtain waste steamed potatoes from a nearby processing plant which we would have to take off the premises at a rate of 60-80 tonnes a day.”

Approaching his bank for a loan of £750,000, he says the money was spent mainly on cattle (around £400,000) with the remainder largely funding new buildings (the farm at the time had just one triple-span shed) and the equipment required to transport the potatoes.

“The product was like soup so we had to buy tankers to transport the liquid element and the solids went into trailers,” he says. “We also had to commit to take the dirty water which could have been up to 120 tonnes every day which also needed specialist equipment to be spread on the land.”

Committed to remove the entire volume the factory produced, cattle numbers quickly increased to around 1,500 head; neighbours’ farm buildings were rented until the farm had built its own; and the whole operation moved up to a new level.

“The potatoes came in at such a rate we had to give the cattle as much as we could,” he says. “We added chopped straw and grass silage to supply long fibre but even so, I think their performance was held back, they were dirtier than they should have been and we had lots of clipping to do before they were sold.”

With 70 to 80 cattle moving off the farm every week at this stage, the Scotts had to continue their expansion simply to keep moving the feed.

Regularly visiting Lancaster market – the main source of their store cattle and a venue either David or Fraser has attended every week for the last 35 years – numbers further increased until the unit was accommodating 1,600.

However, always aware the supply of potatoes could finish as quickly as it had started, the inevitable happened around seven years later in 2009 when the potato processing plant ceased production.

“Our back-up plan was to go to Swarland Grain Driers where we always kept a rolling 1,000 tonnes of unsold grain we could draw on at any time,” he says.

Radically changing the ration to include brewers grains with home-grown rolled barley, which went into a total mixed ration with chopped straw and grass silage, and was buffered with limestone flour, Fraser continued to seek other co-products to reduce the cost of the ration.

Struggling at the time as more businesses were alert to the co-product options, he relied increasingly heavily on cereals from the farm.

“The grain was coming off the fields at around 23-24 per cent moisture so we had to dry it to 15 per cent for storage and subsequent use,” he says. “We had three gas-powered driers which was our cheapest option for drying the corn, but because of the late cereal harvests we were losing time on getting the next crop into the ground and we had the additional cost of hiring in staff to speed up the process.”

Anxious that the arable operation should dovetail more smoothly with the livestock, Fraser was keen that manure-spreading, autumn cultivations and drilling (particularly of oilseed rape) should be brought forward and achieved whenever possible with existing farm staff.

So in 2011 he decided to try crimping rather than dry-harvesting grain. Guided by Michael Carpenter from home-grown feed preservation specialists, Kelvin Cave Ltd, he believed this would not only bring the cereal harvest forward by three to four weeks, but would also dispense with the cost of drying grain, bring autumn cultivations and drilling forward – also allowing the time for grassland reseeds – while both cutting the cost and increasing the quality of the ration.

The system met his expectations and even released the shed which had previously been used for storing dry grain. Instead, part of a former silage clamp was assigned to the crimped grain, which was harvested at a moisture content of 30-35 per cent, crimped and treated with Crimpstore 2000Spreservative, and compacted and covered with O2 Barrier 2in1 sheeting in the clamp.

“We considered a variety of crimpers to do the job and eventually bought the Korte 1400,” he says. “I’d seen how it would process the grains and add the preservative, and knew we could readily achieve a throughput of 25-30 tonnes per hour.”

Today, crimped grain forms the largest component of the ration which has been reformulated to include brewers grains and a high energy and protein wheat by-product, with silage and straw (see table).

At a cost of 154p/day for heifers (186p for steers), the ration is also said to have improved the health, performance and the look of the cattle and reduced the need to clip before sale.

Grading sheets tell a similar story with predominantly R grades achieved from dairy cross heifers and steers, killing out on average at 330kg. But as one of the biggest suppliers to Scotbeef, the family will neither divulge their price nor their average margin.

“I did accurately work out the margin on the Angus-cross heifers last year,” admits Fraser. “They were on the farm for 60 days and returned a margin of £61/head. The margin for continentals was less, largely because they are on the farm for longer.”

However, he says: “This is a numbers game and the fact margins are tight is a constant drive. They are not easy to obtain unless you run a tight ship and this is what I hope we do.

“We will continue to use grain as I think it’s the best way of finishing stock and I haven’t found a better way of processing it than crimping. It allows harvest to take place when its nutritional value is highest and there’s virtually zero waste in the clamp,” he says.

“Any co-product, by contrast, has always had its quality depleted in some way because of the way it’s processed,” he adds.

This year he says he will add an even higher out put crimper (the Korte 2000) to the inventory and increase his crimped grain storage to four clamps, each with a capacity of 750 tonnes.

And as the new livestock shed also comes on stream, the throughput of the farm will rise to 5,000 head per year.

“But there’s no reason why this system couldn’t work for 10,000 just as well as it does for 5,000 head,” he says.

And does he foresee that happening? He turns to his son and the next generation who will take on the task of carrying it through. “Ask Oliver,” he says.

Cattle ration for heifers (and steers) – weights (freshweights) and costs

Ingredient                                         Rate (per head/day)                  Cost (per head/day)

Crimped barley                                6.00kg (+2.5kg for steers)        75.00p (+31.25p for steers)

Brewers grains                                 3.33kg                                               14.65p

SelcoPlus (wheat by-product)   3.33kg                                               31.47p

Grass silage                                       16.70kg                                            30.00p

Straw                                                   0.53kg                                               3.18p

Limestone flour                               17g                                                     Negligible

Total                                                     29.89kg                                            154.30p (185.55p for steers)

Chesters farm

  • Throughput of 90 head of finished beef per week, rising to 100/week this year
  • Forward stores bought mainly from Lancaster, Hexham and Acklington marts
  • Breeds bought mainly of dairy origin, crossed with Angus or continental
  • Ration costed at £1.54 per day for heifers and based predominantly on crimped grain
  • Crimped grain chosen for rumen health, animal performance and early field work
  • Straw from crimped grain baled behind combine for bedding and feed
  • Cattle destined for Scotbeef, shipped twice weekly in the farm’s own double-decker lorry
  • Beef largely retailed by major national outlets including M&S and Aldi
  • Beef finishing enterprise sits alongside 850 ewes and 566ha (1,400 acres) of arable
  • Arable comprises around 445ha (1,100 acres) barley or wheat and 121ha (300 acres) rape

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