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    Posted 25 September 2001

    LATEST RESEARCH results from the Harper Adams University College Beef Unit indicate beef margins attainable under a Whole-crop fed system exceed those of a cereal beef system, particularly in heifers. Simon Marsh, Senior Lecturer in Beef Production at Harper Adams, has recently had a batch of 55 January to April 2000 born Limousin cross Holstein bulls and heifers reared through to slaughter on a fermented whole-crop silage beef system.

    Calves were slaughtered at an average age of 16 months old with bulls weighing 619kg and heifers at 488kg, returning margins of £160 and £254 per head for the heifers and bulls respectively.

    "The margin for the bulls significantly exceeds our target of £10 a head per month. For the heifers the margin is way above what would have been returned if they had been finished on a cereal beef system," said Simon Marsh.

    The 490kg Limousin x Holstein heifers having being fed whole crop wheat silage

    Calves were either sired by a bull with a high, top ten per cent of breed, or below average beef value. Sires used were Ronick Hawk (LM 29) and Staveley Hurricane (LM 7). Within the study an evaluation was made of various energy and protein supplements.

    Mr Marsh said the results highlighted a number of key issues for producers:

    · As expected there is a marked improvement in performance with the bulls compared to the heifers.

    · The gross margins at Harper Adams exceed those achieved by silage beef producers recorded by Signet.

    · The bulls reached slaughter condition of fat class 3 at weights of 619kg producing a 350kg carcass giving a return of £712 per bull with all premiums added. Despite a penalty by the meat trade of 4p/kg for bulls being reared compared to steers, previous trials at Harper have shown that the superior performance of bulls over steers is worth 20p/kg carcass weight.

    · The heifers reached slaughter condition of fat class 4L at weights of 488kg producing a 259kg carcass. The majority of carcasses met the specification demanded by the meat trade.

    · The calves were reared on 4 litres per day of whole milk to weaning at 5 weeks old. This kept rearing costs to a bare minimum, but this policy needs to be evaluated. Would slightly higher milk feeding rates and a later weaning date give improved lifetime performance?

    · Whole-crop is a relatively cheap feed costing just £60 per tonne of dry matter. This cost includes seed and establishment, fertiliser, sprays, harvesting; additive, storage costs and rent for an 11t DM/ha yield and excludes area aid payments. If area aid is claimed it reduces the cost of the whole-crop to approximately £40/t DM.

    · The cattle sired by Ronick Hawk, the bull with the high Beef Value, produced significantly heavier carcass weights compared to Staveley Hurricane, the bull with the below average Beef Value. This data is currently being analysed and will be published shortly.

    · It has been suggested that cattle fed whole-crop require supplementing with some rapidly fermented carbohydrate. Feeding a blend of beet pulp and distillers was compared to a mix of barley and soya. Similar daily live weight gains were recorded.

    · The bulls grew consistently at 1.0-1.2kg per day on whole-crop plus 3.5kg of concentrates. When we ran out of whole-crop with the bulls at 14 months old and put them onto ad-lib cereals they recorded daily liveweight gains of 1.5-1.9kg to slaughter.

    · The target in any beef system is to generate a gross margin of at least £10/month/head. On a 16-month silage beef system this equates to £160 in total. Both the bulls and heifers achieved this target.

    "In previous years at Harper with intensive cereal fed heifers we have never achieved the target margin," said Simon Marsh.

    Mr Marsh added: "The message is that fermented whole-crop wheat can give good animal performance and leave high margins. The daily liveweight gains of cattle on fermented whole-crop are significantly lower than those recorded for cereal fed beef, however this results in a delay in slaughter and a marked increase in slaughter weight, which is particularly important for heifers."

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