Store no more, warns beef scientist

A LEADING Scottish beef research scientist has told Farming Life that putting cattle through a store period represents a road to nowhere from both an overall efficiency and global warming perspective.

“Bringing cattle through to 30 months of age makes no sense at all,” added Dr Jimmy Hyslop, who heads up the beef research unit at SAC’s Bush Farms’ Estate, near Edinburgh.
“This entails the cost of keeping the stock over two full winters and will add tremendously to the quantities of methane the animals pump out into the atmosphere during their lifetimes,” he further explained.
“The reality is that suckler bred steers can be finished at between 16 and 18 months, killing out between 360 and 380 kilos, if they are maintained on a high quality forage: concentrate ration after weaning.
“Buying calves in the autumn and keeping them on a ‘next to maintenance’ ration over the following winter makes absolutely no sense. I am fully aware that cattle managed as stores will demonstrate compensatory growth once they are put out on to good quality pasture in the Spring. But this is a false economy as repeated trials have shown categorically that keeping cattle on an optimum level from birth onwards will generate the highest levels of return for beef producers.”
Jimmy Hyslop made his comments during a tour of Bush Farms, which had been organised for four visitors from Northern Ireland earlier this week: Farming Life’s Richard Halleron; Ulster Bank’s Cormac McKervey; Linden Foods’ Frank Foster and Thompson’s George Starrett.
He continued: “Improving efficiency is the only way the UK and Irish beef sectors will survive in a world which is becoming ever more competitive.
“I firmly believe that all male animals should be kept entire, as young bulls will deliver superior feed conversion rates. The reality is that supermarkets continue to show a preference for steer beef. But even young bullocks can achieve more than acceptable daily liveweight gains, provided they are kept on an optimal plane of nutrition throughout their lives.”
Significantly, Dr Hyslop does not think that his thoughts on how to best finish cattle contradict the ‘beef from grazed grass’ quality standard that has been traditionally used as a marketing tool by the redmeat sectors in the UK and Ireland.
“The grazing block on suckler beef farms should be used exclusively to maintain cows and young calves,” he commented.
“Putting young stock out for a second grazing season just does not stack up. But none of this should come as a surprise to beef farmers. People like me have been preaching this message for years.
“However, the fact that climate change gas production is significantly reduced by doing away with store periods may be the extra impetus required to get farmers thinking seriously about improving their overall business performance levels.
“Research carried out at Bush Farms, using our new methane chambers, has clearly shown that cattle fed 50:50 concentrate- forage diets produce significantly less methane than those offered silage only.”
Dr Hyslop concluded: “Adding meal to a ration, obviously, reduces the number of days required to finish a beef animal. So striving to get cattle away in the shortest time possible is a win:win scenario from an efficiency, potential profitability and environmental perspective.”

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