High output, low input livestock production without payments
Roger and Tom Elliott have developed a blueprint mixed livestock enterprise. The father and son partnership say they have already established a sustainable business on parks and traditional pasture land rented from local estates which are void of all support payments. And they have discovered for themselves that Beef Shorthorn has a key role to play on their relatively high output, low input system in which ‘every single animal has to stand on its own four feet’.
“We believe that ours is a strategy for the future. We are focused on producing high performance pedigree and store cattle and finished lamb from a forage based system,” Tom explains. “The herd is consistently averaging 98% calves born over a 10 week calving period and 97% calves reared, we are selling the pedigree heifers surplus to replacement requirements on to other breeders and in to commercial herds, along with two or three breeding bulls and all at the farm gate; we don’t have time to go to shows and sales.
“The replacement heifers are managed separately and this last year we calved them at two years for the first time having reached 400kg targeted bulling weight at 14 months, while the steers are sold to a finisher at an average 375kg at seven to eight month weaning. Morrisons Traditional Beef Scheme has introduced a firm demand and this season we plan to follow them through to finishing and see them hung up to make sure we are getting our breeding decisions right.”
Roger continues: “We remain very open minded and flexible to introducing new ideas and concepts in order to maximise returns, and one of the inputs we can change quite readily is genetics. Whilst we’ve introduced some of the latest genetic developments to our sheep flock, for the beef enterprise, we firmly believe in stocking with native breeds, and we are sold on Beef Shorthorn.
“TB put a stop to our multi suckling, rearing enterprise based around dairy bred calves over 10 years ago,” he explains. “We agreed to introduce a suckler herd with native breeds, at which point enter Beef Shorthorn. We’ve since found the cattle quiet to handle, very low maintenance in our simple system and easy to feed on forage – grazed grass, hay, haylage and straw, and they’ve enable us to pare variable costs to the bone.” Fertiliser is restricted to 200 acres mown for haylage and hay. Supplementary purchased feed is restricted to straw and high energy blocks fed to bulling cows and heifers and during the winter housing period along with minerals and rock salt. Roger and Tom manage both enterprises themselves, apart from a contractor for baling forage.
The Elliotts sharpened their interest in the breed five years ago when Tom spotted half a dozen bulling heifers for sale from the Gaddesdon herd. He invested in another six heifers the following year, while in 2012 they had the opportunity to purchase the entire herd. A further 45 females were selected, the Kislingbury prefix was established and the rest is history.
“We wanted the best to breed the best which next led us to looking at genetics somewhat further afield,” explains Roger. “Australian herds, like ours, don’t carry passengers; the cattle out there have to work, so we think very favourably of their bloodlines. In fact Kislingbury was underpinned by Australian genetics. Our first herd sire was Wavendon Red Rattler who introduced femininity to the herd together with milk and longevity – his females are averaging 10 years, and we don’t keep them just for the sake of it. Glacier of Upsall is the latest sire to join the herd going back to Australian lines and is also within the breed’s top 10%; he was secured last year in Stirling where he was reserve intermediate champion.
“When we’re looking for a new sire, then first and foremost he has to look right, however it helps if he has accompanying Breedplan data – within the breed’s top 10% for milk, ease of calving and 200 day weight. Heifer selection is firmly based on dam performance; she has to have enough milk to pass on to her calf to reach 360kg at weaning. They’re all managed under the same grazing regime, we don’t push them, however we find the best ones always shine out.”
And the result. The Elliotts are breeding a medium size cow, one that matures at 700kg and produces a calf with the maximum kilos at weaning. “She is easy fleshing and easy to calve and that’s essential since we live four miles away from where they are housed. Whilst we check three times a day, in the end they just have to get on calving themselves, and they do. Furthermore, we can rest assured that their calves are immediately up and away sucking.
“Management is crucial. We like to get them in to condition score 4 by the time they are housed in November and then slowly cruise down to condition score 3 by the start of calving in March in order to pop the calf out, after which they’re turned straight out to grass.”
To the future, whilst the majority of beef and sheep producers have yet to fully embrace the future challenges, the Elliotts are very satisfied with their blueprint strategy. In fact towards the end of 2015 they secured another 200 acres of rented parkland and grass keep which will provide them with the opportunity to take cow numbers to over 320 head and Beef Shorthorn is guaranteed to have strong representation in the mix.