Integrated production system is geared towards profitability
BEEF farmers traditionally gauge success as profit per animal but Borders farmer Wuffy McIntyre has taken a different route. His success is measured by weight of meat produced and profit per kilo.
The whole premise of Wuffy McIntyre’s beef system is straightforward. It is geared to the profitable production of high quality manufacturing beef and the margin per kilo of beef produced, not profit per beast.
His intensive system, based largely on black and white calves from three local dairy farms, aims to produce about eight finished animals per week throughout the year by making maximum use of home produced feeds.
The beef enterprise is also geared to integrate smoothly with the family’s agricultural contracting and store lamb finishing businesses.
Farming at Almagill, near Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, is entirely a family affair, bringing together Mr McIntyre, who concentrates on livestock, son Craig, who looks after the arable side and the contracting, with daughter Lynsey holding everything together as the farm’s administrator.
The family moved from Renfrewshire to Almagill in 1988. The farm is a 202 hectare (500 acres) unit roughly split between 65ha (160 acres) of cereals, 105ha (260 acres) of lowland grass and 33ha (80 acres) of hill grazing.
Beef production is based on 200-250 grazing cattle and some 400 bulls and, in addition, the farm will finish about 3,500-4,000 store lambs each year.
Livestock feeding is simplified as the same TMR ration is used for all stock, apart from young calves, including sheep, with feeding rates adjusted as necessary.
The TMR is based on high quality silage, wheat, barley, wholecrop, grain beet, and a protein supplement.
“Finishing cattle will get an additional 3kg per head per day of a barley mix fed separately,” says Mr McIntyre. “Overall we are aiming for liveweight gains of about 1.3kg-1.4kg on our intensive bull finishing system.”
Among recent changes to the cattle diets are the inclusion of a high quality protein to optimise rumen health and oyster shell flour to aid digestion.
We are aiming for liveweight gains of about 1.3kg-1.4kg on our intensive bull finishing system
Bull calves are bought in from three dairy farms, normally at about two weeks old and Mr McIntyre says he prefers to have calves that have grown a little, rather than very young animals, as they settle better and have fewer problems. The calves are mostly pure Holstein, though the farm also takes some continental crosses.
“The type of calf has changed a little over the last two or three years as dairy farmers have moved away from the more extreme dairy type, to a slightly more Friesian type of animal,” says Mr McIntyre. “However, the larger Holstein type does work well for us giving us a good frame to carry meat.”
The calves are checked, weighed, electronically tagged and treated against the threat of respiratory diseases on their arrival. They are then bedded on straw.
As far as possible, each batch of calves remains in the same group during their stay on the farm. One valuable aid in the settling down stage is a simple shelter in the rearing house where the calves can go and lie.
“We think it gives them a feeling of security. The new calves are fed milk substitute through an automatic feeder and will stay in the rearing unit for 12-14 weeks,” says Mr McIntyre.
“We try to disturb them as little as possible so do not weigh them to check progress as we can tell by eye if they are thriving.
“They then move on to the finishing pens with both slats and straw bedding but always on straw for the final three months before slaughter. We also use woodchip as low cost bedding.”
Mr McIntyre says he aims to finish the bulls at 12-13 months with carcase weights of 260kg-265kg, with all going to Scotbeef at Stirling.
“We like pure Holstein bulls as these are the cheapest to buy and find we have to take continental crosses up to 55kg heavier liveweight simply to make the same profit.”
The family also run about 200-250 bullocks bought in as 15-month-old stores mostly from Dumfries market, of which about 140 are outwintered.
“We simply swop sheep for bullocks in the autumn,” says Mr McIntyre. “We will finish them as far as possible off grass plus some TMR feeding from July onwards. To protect the land we have built hard standing feeding stations on the hill.
“Most bullocks will finish at about 24 months of age by August or September each year. These go at about 600kg-650kg liveweight to Scotbeef or ABP at Perth.”
The sheep are just bought in as feeding hoggs with 400 coming from Mr McIntyre’s cousin and the rest from Longtown, Lockerbie and Dumfries markets. They are finished at about 19kg carcase weights and sold to Vivers Scotlamb at nearby Annan.
“The sheep handling and weighing system is also used for calves with separate recording units used for the two types of animal,” says Mr McIntyre.
“Our system fits together well. There are five people, including Craig, working in the contracting business and they are able to work in the beef unit during the winter when the contracting business is quiet.
“Every piece of machinery used in the contract business is also used here on the farm so is fully employed. On the land, the grazing cattle and sheep also work well together. Overall, I am reasonably confident for the future of both beef and sheep production.
“We are really working in a niche market with our beef, producing manufacturing beef which means we are not looking at profit per animal but profit per kilo of beef we produce.
“We recently did some sums and the amount of money tied up in a relatively high cost beef system like ours is scary, but the same is also true of the machinery involved in our contracting work.
“Apart from stock, we have to buy in additional cereals and straw so, to some extent, are vulnerable to price increases there. But this is not a problem as long as this is reflected in the price of beef.
“We strive to produce a quality product with minimal costs. We do require product placement backing from the retailers to enable the next generation to continue to produce Scottish beef and lamb for an ever growing population.”
Almagill farm facts
- The arable land is broken down into about 20ha (50 acres) oats for whole crop, 24ha (60 acres) barley and 20ha (50 acres) wheat. Silage is taken in three cuts, each of 24ha (60 acres)
- Grassland varies as the farm runs from the hill down to the banks of the River Annan and includes leys with high sugar varieties plus long-term swards. Central to the system is production of high quality, especially high protein, forage box silage and crimped grains
- The contracting business, AQF Contracting, also concentrates on forage box silage and crimping work, meaning all contracting equipment is also used at home