Two beef farmers have revealed their secrets to achieving improved weight gains in cattle.
Andrew Hyde and Jamie Paterson were recently announced as winners of the Breedr Weigh to Win competition, which ran from November 1st, 2020, to March 31st, 2021.
240 farmers recorded their cattle weights’ regularly, so they could tailor feed rations and management accordingly.
Andrew Hyde, who keeps 450 head of beef cattle at Woofferton Grange, Ludlow, Shropshire, topped the over 12-months category.
He buys British Blue-cross-dairy calves from a dedicated rearer at 12-week-old and finishes them on contract for a large supermarket.
“We get them in at about 130kg and finish them at around 600kg live weight, at 20-22-months-old,” explained Hyde.
His winning group of 46 cattle averaged an impressive daily live weight gain (DLWG) of 1.88kg over the five months, which he attributes to grazing them last summer, growing their frames. Hence, they were ready to respond to a fast-growing diet over the winter.
Most finished at the target R3 or 0+3 grades, thereby commanding a valuable price premium.
The family farm spans 1100-acres and consists of a mix of arable, beef and sheep – with sugar beet supplied to a local anaerobic digestion plant and cattle feed.
“When the youngstock arrive on-farm, for the first month, we feed a blend that is similar to the rearer feed they were on,” he added.
They are then transitioned onto a total mixed ration of grass silage and rolled home-grown barley with sugar beet.
Hyde groups the cattle according to size and weighs them monthly, shifting them into other groups if required so they can be fed to weight. Younger or smaller ones are grazed over the summer, while finishers are housed on open-fronted straw yards.
“We only started weighing in November, and with the Breedr app, it is really easy to sort out the groups and record any medical records,” he outlined.
“We used to select finished stock by eye, so now sometimes we’re shocked by the actual weights. I am surprised by the way they have grown this winter. But it helps us to see what’s coming up to slaughter.”
Buying cattle in smaller groups and three cuts of silage
Recent changes to the farm management have included increasing from two cuts of silage to three per year to improve its feeding quality.
Furthermore, Hyde now buys smaller groups of youngstock every two months rather than all in the spring.
“The supermarket wants more consistency. It is quite hard financially when you have all fatstock because they are eating so much. If you level it out throughout the year, it is better for cash flow.”
The results speak for themselves – but Hyde never imagined that he would win the Breedr competition.
“I never looked at the leaderboard – I had no idea until the call to say I had won a quad bike – I still can’t really believe it,” he says.
“We are not doing anything special; we’re just a normal family farm. But we do need a new quad bike as my father’s is pretty knackered – he’s over the moon.”
Jamie Paterson, Dunbar:
Jamie Paterson (main image), farm manager at Little Spott Farms, Dunbar, Scotland, is the winner of the 12-month category.
He manages 130 Limousin-cross-Charolais suckler cows across 400-acres of grassland, rearing the calves to sell as stores at seven to eight months old and 400kg live weight.
“We try to keep things simple. We calve inside in March and April before turning them out to grass over the summer,” he explained.
But this year, he tried a couple of different things – firstly, calving heifers a bit younger, at 24 months, and secondly, introducing a new calf feed.
“We are pleased with the results. We run our own bulls and are buying in bulling heifers to grow the herd, but we are looking at producing our own replacements in future, and the heifers did well.”
Paterson creep feeds calves at grass from August onwards. This year, he replaced his barley and mineral mix with a specialist high-quality calf blend.
“It pushes them on a bit quicker; if we can sell calves a month or earlier, then at an extra cost of £30/t of feed, it is a worthwhile return on investment.”
As a result, his winning batch of 35 animals averaged a DLWG of 1.44kg.
To note, he takes two cuts of silage and, once housed, feeds the cattle twice daily, with hard feed just once a day.
He weans larger progeny and sells these at housing, while he retains others for a longer period.
Paterson weighs the youngstock once a month, moving them into different groups according to their size and weight.
“Using Breedr to record the weights with EID tags is really easy. Plus, it predicts their weights – so if you have not weighed for a week or so, you can still see which ones to pick and sell; it’s pretty much bang on every time.”
Mr Paterson sells both privately and at Stirling market. However, he also plans to sell through the Breedr app in future. “Providing buyers with actual DLWG is helpful – it gives them confidence.”
“And this time next year, I can look at my bull and cow genetics in the app, against how the calves perform and tailor my breeding choices.”
Click here to find out how beef farmers could improve profit margins by £100/head, and slash carbon emissions by 5-10%.