The Thrive programme farmers are all striving to improve animal and financial performance year on year.
Recently, one of the programme farmers asked me what are the key things he needs to record to get a good handle on the overall performance of his dairy calf-to-beef system.
Obviously, recording liveweights is the clearest way to measure animal performance. This is beneficial both in the short term – ie have my cattle been performing at grass for the last six weeks?
But, more importantly, long term - ie over the entire production system where did the cattle do well and where were they under-performing?
Farmers who are weighing cattle are good at the short-term management, but can do better at the longer-term analysis.
There is no doubt that weighing cattle requires at least some additional labour. This is only a benefit if you use the weight information to make instant and long-term decisions.
I would recommend weighing finishing cattle at least every three weeks
For the entire system, I would recommend at the very least farmers should be recording weights at the following times: calf arrival on farm; weaning/turnout to grass; mid-summer; housing for first winter; turnout second season at grass; and mid-summer weight.
After this, I would recommend weighing finishing cattle at least every three weeks for the final two months pre-slaughter.
This equates to four weighings in the first year and a further four or five in the second year on farm.
Using the data
It is no use going to the effort of recording all these weights if you do not use them.
Ideally, you should have some sort of farm software that will analyse the data for use in a user-friendly way.
If not, a simple spreadsheet can do everything you need to do.
The picture below is how the animals on the Thrive demo farm are monitored. Every animal has one line of the spreadsheet that will hold every piece of data on that animal from calf to carcase.
A second key factor to measure is the diet of the animal. This can be as simple as a mark on the calendar.
Know when animals go to grass, housing date, turnout date for the second season and date and rate meal feeding is introduced to each group.
At the end of the production system, sit down and calculate the days on each diet and how much concentrate in total was fed. From this, you can calculate feed costs for the whole system quite easily.
Looking at the entire system allows you to take a step back and oversee the whole process.
Things that may have gone unnoticed in the short term can be very clear on an entire production system scale.
Ask for help
If you want to record more data on your farm and are looking for help to make the start, contact your local adviser who will be able to help. Also, if you have any queries you can contact me on email at firstname.lastname@example.org.