Mark Mackay’s calves averaged 1.26kg/day liveweight gain until weaning at 200 days last year. These Charloais-sired calves grew at 1.29kg/day for steers and 1.3kg/day for heifers.

Mark has Charolais, Limousin, Simmental and Shorthorn-sired calves on his farm. Close behind his continental calves were the calves from his Shorthorn bull, with steers doing 1.27kg/day and heifers 1.17kg/day until their 200-day weaning rate.

Mark weaned 138 calves at 200 days, with most coming from Charolais sires (61) followed by Simmental (44), then Shorthorn (30). There were three bought-in calves which were registered to the Limousin.

The average 200-day weaning weight for the Charolais was 303kg, Limousin 290kg, Simmental 292kg and Shorthorn 284kg. The traditional-bred calves were 18/kg lighter than the Charolais, which would see £50/head less paid in the store ring.

However, the Shorthorn genetics is being bred into the herd to provide replacement heifers who will be joining the summer-calving herd which is outwintered on the hill ground.

Mark achieved his impressive growth rates through improved grassland managed by moving cattle on to fresh pasture quicker. He breaks his 170-cow herd into groups of 36 cows and calves for each bull. These batches are grazed on around 10ha split into three paddocks over summer. He moves the groups every four days to new grass.

The calves did get creep feed but this was only introduced for the last three weeks before weaning as the grass was tailing off and he was looking to build reserves into the cows. The calves are weaned at 200 days as opposed to a typical industry average of 240 days, which allows to the cows to build condition before housing.

Mark outwinters 62 cattle which he feeds three bales of silage every second day.

Cows feeding themselves

Mark likes to get condition on to his cows before taking them inside in mid-October. This helps prevent damaging his fields over winter and reduces his winter feed and straw bill. Taking his 108 spring-calving cows into the shed with a body condition score of 3.5 to 4 means that he can feed them on a straw-based diet and preserve silage.

The diet is made up of 25kg of silage per day plus access to straw compared to a more traditional ration of 30kg to 40kg of silage for recently housed spring-calving cows. The dung will be drier, meaning that there is less straw being used for bedding.

He will keep his cows on a lower-energy diet in the runup to Christmas to take the condition off their backs. This will ensure they are in good condition to start calving on 10 March. The cows over February will see their silage ration rise to 35kg to 40kg to gain energy reserves prior to calving again with free access to straw.

“This year we have loads of silage,” said Mark.

“Compared to last year, the pressure is off when it comes to conserving fodder for winter feed. We will have leftover for next year and could reduce the area silage in the summer.

“I am renting 60 acres (25 hectares) which I am only allowed to make silage bales on. I have some of my own ground that is in an environmental scheme and have about 60 acres of pit silage which is in a wader-mown grassland scheme.”

Some of his silage ground is under restrictions due to government schemes, meaning he cannot graze or apply fertiliser to the ground after 30 March but can get on with the fertiliser spreader after 15 May. Then on 1 July he is allowed to cut for silage.

Mark keeps the cows on his hill ground before taking them back to the shed to in batches as they come onto calving in May.

Outwintering cow performance

“It has been a kind winter so far, which has been great for the 62 cattle we are wintering out on the rough ground,” said Mark.

“We are feeding the 45 cows three bales every second day, which is around 650kg of dry matter per day.”

Mark keeps the cows on his hill ground before taking them back to the shed to in batches as they come towards calving.

Mackay at Greenvale Caithness

Spring stores

The strong store trade this spring is encouraging Mark to sell up to 45 Charolais heifers and steers at Coybrae on 9 March when they get to 11 months old. He hopes to get the males to 420kg and the heifers to between 380kg and 400kg.

However, Mark isn’t settled on the numbers to be sold as some may be retained to utilise the peak grass growth at the start of summer.