When buying cattle feed there is more to consider than just price, according to Dumfries monitor farmers, the Paterson family of Hartbush Farm, just north of Dumfries.
The Dumfries monitor farm, run by John and Amanda Paterson and their children Louise and Steven, is the only one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland, focussing primarily on cattle finishing.
At the recent monitor farm meeting, the Patersons shared the figures from a two month trial comparing two cattle feed blends from two different companies at the end of December.
Hartbush has dealt with one feed firm for over 20 years. “We had no complaints about the feed we were buying in,” explained Mr Paterson. “However, chatting to other farmers, it was clear that some were buying what sounded like similar feeds and blends, for less money. As the feed bill is one of our greatest farming expenses, we needed to find out more.”
A different feed company was invited to participate in the trial, to compare their blend on cost and finishing bull performance, with the blend that was traditionally purchased, to determine which blend was best value. Both rations (detailed below) were balanced to be similar levels of energy and protein.
The blends were fed as part of a Total Mixed Ration (TMR), from a mixer wagon and all feed delivered to the cattle was recorded daily. The cattle, 72 Charolais, Simmental and Limousin sired young bulls averaging 300kgs, were split into two equal groups for breed and liveweight, and fed the two different rations.
Thanks to the Hartbush cattle being EID tagged, weight recording is simple and the bull performance figures were calculated along with the quantity of feed delivered to determine which blend was the better buy.Table 1. Blend Comparison Competitor Current Price £/T £233.00 £260.00 Protein (%FW) 15.1% 18% double mineralised
Table 2. Bull Growing Ration New Blend (kg/t mix) Old Blend (kg/t mix) Straw (£75/T) 45kg 45kg Treated Barley (£140/T) 547kg 616kg Blend 360kg
290kgNutrimol (£165/T) 48kg 49kg TMR Cost (£/T) £168.14 £173.04
Table 3. Results New Blend Old Blend Daily LWG (kg/head) 1.67 1.77 Feed Intake (kg/head/day) 11.7 9.8 Food Conversion (kg feed/kg LWG) 6.98 5.55 Blend Cost (£/T) £223.00 £260.00 TMR Cost (£/T) £168.14 £173.04 TMR Cost (£/head/day) £1.96 £1.70 TMR Cost per kg LWG £1.17 £0.96
“We organised this trial ourselves,” commented Mr Paterson. “The other feed company understood that their blend was being fairly compared to what we were already feeding, in a true farming situation. Other than that there was no commercial influence.
“There was no visible difference in appetite between the two groups of bulls, both ate very well.
“We were pleasantly surprised at the final results which revealed that although our regular blend was over £30 more per tonne to buy, the bulls eating this gained a kilo for 96p, while those fed the cheaper blend cost £1.17 per kilo of liveweight gain.. Part of the reason for this is that they gained weight more quickly but more importantly, they ate nearly 2kg a head a day less doing that.
“It’s fair to say we wouldn’t have believed there would have been such a difference, had we not proved it to ourselves. We’ve certainly learnt that with cattle feed, we need to consider value for money, particularly Food Conversion, not just the initial cost!”
Mr Paterson added: “While doing this trial, we also learnt the value of discussing with the nutritionist what we’re trying to achieve - for example ideal fat cover on finished cattle.
“In our bull finishing enterprise, the basic aims are for the bulls to get as heavy as possible, as quickly as possible, and importantly to kill out to processor specification. We’re told to aim for carcases of between 300 and 400 kgs, conformation grade O plus and better, fat grade – 80% 4L, with the remainder at 3 to 4H.
“There’s a high percentage of continental blood in our cattle, making them inclined to be a bit lean, so we’re aware of the need to make sure there’s sufficient fat cover on our finished bulls.
“In mid-January we sent nine bulls to Highland Meats, which averaged 351 kgs deadweight, 55.4 % killing out, graded U and R for conformation and were all either 3 or 4L for fat.”