By reducing cow size, introducing a new breed and careful nutrition management, Angus farmer, Robin Norrie has increased herd size and improved efficiency in his suckler unit from the same acreage of grass.
Robin is the fifth generation at Denhead of Arbirlot and Glentyrie and runs the productive beef and arable units in partnership with his father Frank and his uncle Douglas.
The farms are spread over around 300 acres ranging from 300 to 600 feet above sea level, with the soil type ranging from some light loamy land to some more heavy clay soils. The Norries grow some 150 acres of malting spring barley and this year have grown around 15 acres of winter barley. The idea behind the winter barley is to get some early barley for feeding along with getting early entry for a hybrid rape mix to graze over the winter. There is also 116 acres of grass and some land is rented out for potatoes and vegetables.
The cattle breed of choice is Stabiliser and the herd consists of 140 cows and 31 heifers which run on the grass. Robin is in the process of implementing a rotational grazing system, which helps him to graze more cattle on a smaller acreage of grass. As well as grazing, 800 bales of silage are made which is often from paddocks that have been taken out of the rotational system due to increased grass growth. Robin also treats around 400 bales of straw with ammonia for feeding over the winter.
Over the past 10 years the Norries cows have reduced in size by around 100kgs to an average last year of 640kgs at winter, and this, combined with changing to the Stabiliser has allowed Robin to keep another 40 cows on the same amount of forage.
Stabiliser bulls are put in with the cows around the start of June and run for 10 weeks. Due to the Stabilisers having a slightly shorter gestation period, calving begins the first week of March. Robin said, “Over the past four years we have achieved a 93% weaning rate from cows put to the bull.”
Cows that have calved are turned out to grass around the end of March depending on the weather. ECV Second Stage creep feed is offered to the calves from July/August onwards. This has increased calf weaning weights along with reducing stress and health issues due to calves being adapted to a different diet before weaning at around 190 days old. Last year at weaning the cows averaged 624kgs at a body condition score of 3.5.
All replacements are home-bred apart from some heifers that were bought in 2019 and heifers are vet checked, pelvic measured and calved at two-year-old. They also sell some heifers, which are proving to be highly sought after, regularly being spoken for before weaning.
Male calves are left entire and finished using as much home-grown feed as possible. In 2019 Robin made use of East Coast Viners’ grain processing mill for bruising his barley while treating it with Home n’ Dry. Over 100 tonnes of grain was treated in a process that took around four hours. The barley was bruised at around 17% moisture with Home n’ Dry applied at the same time. The treated grain was then covered and stored for two to three weeks to allow the pellets to release ammonia throughout the grain before feeding to the bulls.
Although Home n’ Dry increases protein, Robin wanted even more protein for growth and turned to ECV for help. ECV nutritionist Calum Littlejohn said, “We formulated a 20% protein concentrate which contained our Alka beef mineral + Xtract + Biosprint at a high enough level to be fed at five parts alka grain to one part concentrate. The balancer added different sources of protein to the ration along with molasses which helped increase palatability and DMI.”
Robin weighs his bulls monthly throughout the winter to make sure none go out of spec and was delighted to see that his bulls averaged 1.8kgs DLWG from weaning until the end of February. Once the Alkagrain ran out the bulls moved onto ECVs Alka Intensive Beef Blend however for another year Robin plans to keep more of his own barley therebye reducing bought-in feed.
The first of the bulls were finished at just over 12 months and Robin hopes to have them all away by the time they are 14 months old at R and U grades.
Along with selling finished bulls Robin has taken the decision to start selling Stabiliser bulls for breeding. The bulls are low birthweights with great temperaments and have not been pushed. They have been grown slowly on a ration of silage and no more concentrates than 4kgs/head/day.
Moving forward Robin is looking for ways to increase his efficiency and therefore profitability. He commented, “Beef production cost in the UK is too high and we are striving to find not only cheaper but more efficient ways to produce beef. We cannot alter the beef price so we must focus on the things we can change such as nutrition, genetics and health to get the most things we can change such as nutrition, genetics and health to get the most out of our cattle.”