Achieving consistent finishing weights as efficiently as possible is fundamental to the continuing success of Welsh farmer, Aled Williams', beef enterprise.
Aled runs Ysgellog Farm near Amlwch, in Anglsey, where he manages a large sheep and beef enterprise with the help of his wife, Nia. The farm comprises of 450 acres, 200 of which are owned and the rest tenanted.
“We have a large flock of 1,000 breeding ewes but also a 100-strong Limousin suckler herd,” explains Aled. “We used to buy in in-calf heifers but now select about 30 cows to be served by a Limousin bull to breed the majority of our replacements and only buy the occasional replacement with calf at foot.”
The aim is to calve down all cows and heifers between April and mid-July, with heifers calving down at 26 months of age or earlier. “We try to keep everything within this calving block as it just makes management easier and suits our system,” continues Aled. “This way calves are being born when there is plenty of good quality grazing available on the farm, so we can be sure that mothers will maintain good feed intakes and are producing plenty of quality milk for calves.”
Aled keeps between 15-20 heifers each year for replacements, with the rest reared for beef.
“We usually aim to bring all the stock indoors around November when the weather deteriorates,” says Aled. “In December, we will start to introduce some solid feed to first year calves, usually home grown oats, to act as a transition before weaning in January and switching them over to a completely solid diet.”
All stock are then fed high quality grass silage ad-lib, before they are ready to be turned out again in April. Aled continues: “Once we turn the cattle out again, the youngstock have their usual grazing supplemented with a blend, which we feed ad-lib through hoppers in the sheds. Youngstock have constant access to the feed and can just wander into the sheds whenever they want.
“When the stock come indoors again, I will weigh the second year youngstock, and separate off the heavier ones, which will be pushed a bit harder, ready for the Christmas market. All the second year youngstock are then on wheat straw and, traditionally, finishing nuts.”
Aled aims to produce finished animals of between 400-430kgs (meeting supplier specifications) in a 20-month timespan, from birth to slaughter. He also buys in around 50-100 head of cattle each year for finishing, so that the number of animals finished on farm is around 150-225 annually.
“With large numbers of cattle being finished, I am always looking for ways to speed up finishing times and improve feed efficiency,” continues Aled. “After talking to my ForFarmers Account Manager, Dyfrig Hughes, I started feeding some of my second year youngstock on the Blendmix Prime Grade finishing ration and I am really pleased with the results so far.”
In March this year, Aled initially started feeding the Blendmix Prime Grade - which has a high starch and energy content – to a batch of 30 heifers he was finishing. However, the growth rates that these animals achieved were so good (up to 2kg of liveweight gain a day in the best performers), that he is now finishing a total of 80 heifers on the feed.“The initial batch of heifers that I gave the feed to put on really good weights,” concludes Aled. “Their liveweight gains ranged from 53kg to 72kg during the month between each weighing. The Levucell in the ration also seems to help keep the cattle’s rumens settled, which is good as we are encouraging them to take on large intakes through ad lib feeding.
“This is the first year that my wife and I have been running the farm on our own and we have been making changes to our system, including feed. So far the Prime Grade seems to be doing a good job and I hope it will continue to do so into the future.”
Getting calves off to a strong start and achieving good, early weight gains is essential to maintain the success of a beef enterprise. It is equally important that youngstock, and any stores brought on to farm for finishing, transition smoothly onto final, finishing diets, without rumen upsets and resulting growth checks.
Managing feed to deliver consistent and high daily liveweight gains is key to the ongoing success of one Exeter-based beef finishing unit.