Beef Finisher Event Focuses On Efficiency

UK - Cattle finishers seeking a practical overview of the beef supply chain and how to improve their efficiency are invited to a free event in Aberdeenshire this week.
calendar icon 14 February 2011
clock icon 3 minute read

SAC and Quality Meat Scotland have organised the “Cattle Finishing – Improving Efficiency of Production” event on 16 February hosted by Ellon-based beef finishers, Thomson Wilson and son Michael at Clochcan Farm, Auchnagatt.

The day will feature a series of speakers leading group discussions on subjects including profitable cattle feeding, the health management of purchased cattle, insight into prices over next year, meat eating quality developments and the supermarket approach.

In addition to finishing 1500 head of bought-in cattle annually, the Wilsons grow 200 acres of high grade seed potatoes and more than 800 acres of grain. All grain and straw used by the cattle is home-produced.

While a few heifers are bought if the price is right, the majority of purchased cattle are continental cross steers, 425 kgs upwards, with the majority bought equally from Kirkwall and Thainstone marts, with the rest from Dingwall.

Most of the Wilson’s finished cattle go to Woodhead Brothers at Turriff. “We’re keen to slaughter our cattle as close as possible to our own doorstep and have a load of 25 to 35 booked in for every Friday,” said Thomson.

The Wilsons are able to put 700 cattle a day through the handling system they designed themselves. The cattle are regularly weighed in the hydraulically operated squeeze crush, which incorporates a weigh crate.

The crush exits to a hydraulically operated drafting gate. One person working at the side of the crush is able to safely perform a range of normally physically demanding tasks, with minimal effort.

Michael Wilson lives at Clochcan, with his father next door at Brownhill of Annochie.

Winter purchases are drafted into two groups - under 500 kgs and 500 kgs or more. The heavier stay at Clochcan, with the lighter ones going to slatted courts at Brownhill. The Brownhill cattle are weighed every six weeks, with those over 550 kgs transferring to Clochcan.

“We’re careful how we treat and feed the new arrivals,” said Thomson.

“They stay in their batches for the first month. The smaller cattle ,which go initially onto slats at Brownhill, receive a silage-based diet, with barley mix, minerals, pot ale syrup and straw for roughage.

“We’re determined to avoid acidosis, so we put larger newcomers onto a starter diet, designed to settle them and help their rumen become accustomed to the change in food. This is equal quantities of bruised moist barley and sugar beet, plus pot ale syrup, dark grains and minerals.”

After a month, the TMR ration, fed in daily topped-up bunkers, is cranked up to 70% barley, 10% of dark grains, sugar beet and pot ale syrup, with minerals. All cattle get ad-lib straw.

Summer-bought cattle are treated similarly, except that those under 500 kgs go to grass. As they near 600 kgs, they receive bunker-fed barley. Once the weather takes a turn for the worse, all cattle are brought inside.

At Clochcan, a range of buildings constructed within the past 15 years, provides well-ventilated accommodation for almost 800 head of cattle, plus storage sheds for grain and straw.

The most recent construction is large enough to house over 500 cattle in five pens, with the handling system, a holding pen and loading bay in an extension.

Soaring grain prices have added pressure to the cattle buying and management skills of finishers like the Wilsons, with the seemingly obvious conclusion that store cattle need to be bought more cheaply.

Thomson Wilson’s decades of experience in the cattle industry have however taught him many things.

He said: “There are two considerations to the price we pay – we need to make profit on the cattle we buy, so we can return to buy in the future, but we also need to pay the breeder enough to make sure that he can afford to keep his cows, and will have cattle for us to buy in the future!”

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