Maize as alternative to barley on intensive beef finishing unit

WITH the rise in cereal prices affecting the profitability of intensive barley-based beef finishing enterprises, farmers are having to look to alternative feeding systems for their businesses to remain viable.


Doug & Nigel
Credit: © FARMERS GUARDIAN please contact 01772 799445.
Doug Dear with NK Seed’s Nigel Padbury.


At a Keenan/NK Seeds open day, hosted by Doug Dear, of Osgodby Grange, Osgodby, near Selby, Yorkshire, visitors were able to see how he has changed from an ad-lib barley finishing system to a total mixed ration, incorporating forage maize.

This has seen the finishing of his black and white bulls reduce by an average of four weeks to 14 months, feed costs have been almost halved and labour has been significantly reduced.

Mr Dear farms the 750-acre arable unit, in partnership with his parents, Alan and Elizabeth. Over the last 10 years they have built up the beef unit to a turnover of about 600 finished bulls.

However, as cereals prices continued to rise they had to seriously consider the future of the enterprise.

“One of our objectives had been to add value to our home-grown feed barley. When barley was £60 per tonne this was profitable, but as it reached £160 per tonne we knew we had to make changes,’’ he said.

“In October last year we bought a mixer wagon so that we could incorporate maize, alternative feeds and straw into the diet. Three years ago we grew 14 acres of maize as a trial, last year we grew 45 acres and this year plan to grow 100 acres.

“We treat it like any other arable crop – plough, press and drill and we use plenty of manure. It makes a good break crop in the arable rotation and is a perfect entry for winter wheats.

“Maize makes an extremely good base product for the ration, so that we can be flexible with other raw materials, making best use of what is available at the time.”

The Dears buy in weaned black and white bull calves at about 12 weeks of age. For the first month they are kept on a barley diet, until they have acclimatised, before moving on to the TMR.

They are using two mixes, one slightly high in protein for the younger stock and another for older stock.

The base of the diet is forage maize; with stock feed potatoes, fodder beet, straw, soya, minerals, barley, lime and urea.

Rolled barley now makes up just a small part of the ration and they may consider replacing it completely with biscuit meal or a similar alternative.

Keenan Ruman’s nutritionist Seth Wareing explained the importance of the balance of the diet, saying if this was not correct the cattle would not perform and, while costs were important, it was the daily liveweight gain, which counted.

Mr Wareing said that on the TMR the cattle were costing 104p/day/head to feed, down from 180p/day, when on ad-lib barley. They were achieving a DLWG of 1.4kg, up from the 1.2kg/day on barley, giving a cost of 74p/kg liveweight gain.

Feed costs were now working out at £132/tonne dry matter, leaving a margin over all feeds of £157/ head.

Nigel Padbury, NK Seeds, said that, on average, the cost of forage maize was about £55 per tonne, dry matter. However, a number of factors would influence yield, including the season, site, soil structure and sowing date.

He urged farmers not to rush to sow maize in March, but wait until the temperature was likely to remain above 5degC, with April 20 usually being considered the optimum sowing date.

Mr Padbury said choosing the correct maize variety for what you wanted it to achieve was more important than yield. “There are so many maize varieties on the Descriptive List that growers can often feed overwhelmed when it comes to variety selection,” he said.

“However, if you understand what you need your maize crop to deliver, then variety selection becomes a lot easier.

“Where maize is intended to supplement what is mainly a grass-based diet, then starch yield should be the priority and varieties such as Avenir, with a 35.7 per cent starch content, will come to the fore.

“For those looking at maize as their primary source of forage, then maximising DM yield and digestibility are the most important factors.

“Here, the new variety NK Bull would be suitable.”

“We are really pleased with the new system and are already seeing significant benefits,’’ said Doug Dear.

“It is also much easier to manage. We can now feed and bed up in two and a half hours and as we have cattle inside 12 months of the year this is relevant, particularly at busy times, such as drilling and harvest. We do feed every day, but it would be possible to feed every other day, which would give us even more time.

“The cattle seem very content on the diet and it seems to me a more natural way of feeding them.

“Even if cereal prices were to come down again, I don’t think I would want to go back to the old system.”

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