Regularly weighing and electronic identification in cattle has helped Bielgrange Farm to monitor the health of livestock and optimise their performance.
2018 Agriscot Scottish Beef Farmer of the Year, Niall Jeffrey of Bielgrange Farm in East Lothian operates a mixed arable and beef enterprise in which he rears and finishes cattle.
Weighing cattle can aid in management decisions such as selecting breeding females, deciding an appropriate weaning time and when to select finished for slaughter. At Beilgrange weaned calves are weighed every six weeks throughout winter and fattening cattle every 3 to 4 weeks through the finishing period.
Time and geographical restraints are the biggest limitations to weighing cattle for the Jeffreys who run a mixed farming business over four different farms. This makes weighing through the grazing season difficult with the main handling facilities at one steading.
Mr Jeffrey commented: “Electronic identification has been a game changer for weighing cattle. It doubles the speed of the process and the information recorded is more accurate and reduces the chance of human error.
“The EID tag is read as the animal enters the crush, then when the weight is stable the weigh head records the weight against the UK ID number of the animal. At the end of the session you can look though the statistics of animals on the screen or upload the file to farm management software on the office PC. This process takes about 10 - 15 minutes and once on the office PC you can run reports and look at statistics till your heart is content”.
The use of EID and weighing equipment has come at an extra expense for the business; the tag cost is about an additional £1/per head at birth and stick reader is around £600. However, Mr Jeffrey believes this is fully justified commenting: “The labour saving alone is worthwhile before you add in the removal of human error, the weigh crush can have two people accurately weigh 100 fat cattle in an hour”.
As well as using EID to monitor weights, the Jeffreys have the use of two Ritchie beef monitors installed through Agri-Epicentre.
Mr Jeffrey added: “The Ritchie beef monitors are primarily used for animals 450kg and above through the finishing period, but we have used them in 350kg weaned calves as well.
“I would love to use them with a group of bulling cows to track their performance through the bulling season then cross check the information with scanning results to get a better understanding of fertility, but, unfortunately, we don’t have enough beef monitors for that.”
Mr Jeffrey added that since the penalty for over 400kg deadweight cattle has come into effect, the business profit margin has directly benefited from not sending cattle away too heavy. Additionally, the labour saving will have had an indirect effect on profits.
Mr Jeffrey said he would encourage other farmers to install weighing equipment: “I think any weigh system is better than none,” said Mr Jeffrey.