Improving Performance in Cattle Finishing Systems

John Howie - Girtridge Farm

Suggestions to refine and improve efficiencies in cattle finishing systems will be under discussion at the next North Ayrshire Monitor farm meeting on Wednesday 30th January.

At the meeting, which will begin at Girtridge Farm, Dundonald before moving to nearby Auchans restaurant, Gavin Hill, senior beef specialist at SAC and SAC nutritionist Karen Stewart will share some suggestions to help those finishing store cattle to improve their bottom line.

John Howie runs the 140-hectare Girtridge farm, the North Ayrshire Monitor farm, in partnership with his mother and sister. They currently finish around 230 cattle all year round, some housed and others from grass.

Mr Howie currently sources store cattle between 15-24 months old from Ayr market and also privately and uses an excel spreadsheet to record as much information on the cattle he finishes as possible. Combining this information with stockmanship skills, Mr Howie was able to identify clear differences in cattle performance at Girtridge and is keen to address the issue.

At the meeting on 30th January, Gavin Hill will give an update on the current beef market. He will also provide some guidance about what to look for when sourcing store cattle either from a market or privately, to ensure that farmers select stock that will perform well on their own farms. Housing and nutrition for optimum growth rates will also be discussed.

With straw supplies tight this year, Mr Howie decided to utilise a suspended cubicle shed at Girtridge to house some of his cattle. He noticed that the performance of the cattle in this shed varied considerably, as cattle were sorting the ration, with some only eating silage.

With advice from Gavin Hill and Karen Stewart, Mr Howie has made some simple changes to how he managed the cattle in this shed. Molasses has been added to the TMR mix to bind the ration and stop self-selection and Mr Howie also reduced the number of cattle in the shed by 10% to reduce competition for food. He has also made improvements to some of the waterbowls to ensure that they delivered sufficient water for the stocking density.

"The changes we have made appear to be working. There is less competition for feed and water along and more concentrates in the latter rations,” said Mr Howie.

He added: “We are due to weigh all the stock this month, so will see if we are hitting our growth targets."

The benefits of performance recording was highlighted at a recent visit by John Howie and members of the business group to Thornhill based Tibbers farm, run by Alistair Kingan, in December.

The Kingan family finish around 1,400 cattle a year and use EID technology extensively both to monitor performance of their stock and as an aid to help select stock to purchase. With proposals to bring in compulsory cattle EID from January, there are huge benefits available to farmers looking to performance-manage their herd more effectively.

“The visit to Tibbers Farm was a real eye opener to me and the last piece of the jigsaw after our meeting with ScotEid and recent cattle EID tag trial,” said Mr Howie.

“The EID equipment that Alistair has installed linked to a weigh-head along with the software programme allows him to analyse the performance data of his stock simply and make more informed management decisions.

“I am really keen to start using EID technology along with an integrated farm management software programme at Girtridge so it was great to see how another finisher has benefited from using it.”  

The North Ayrshire Monitor Farm is one of nine monitor farms that have been established across Scotland in a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The meeting at Girtridge Farm on Wednesday 30th January will begin at 10.30am. The group will move to nearby Auchans Restaurant for lunch followed by some further presentations and should finish at 3pm. All are welcome and the event is free.

For catering purposes, those interested in coming along on 30th January should confirm attendance by calling 01292 525252 or emailing FBSAyr@sac.co.uk