For the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge’s annual study tour, participants of the programme, along with the programme management team travelled to Scotland.
Touching down in Edinburgh airport on Tuesday afternoon last, a farm tour, a visit to AgriScot agricultural show, a breakdown of the Scottish beef sector and fellow Farm Profit programme was squeezed-in before departing for home once again on Thursday afternoon. Here is just some of the highlights from the trip:
On Thursday morning, Scotland Farmers Journal editor John Sleigh and livestock specialist Declan Marren gave an in-depth presentation on Scottish agriculture as well as the Farm Profit Programme, a beef programme modelled on the highly-renowned BETTER Farm beef programme.
Interestingly, on the opening slide, a map of Scotland embedded over a map of Ireland shows that there is very little difference in the size of both countries. That said, on average, land quality in Scotland would be far inferior with over 85% of land classified as LFA’s (less favoured areas), mainly being rough or very rough hill grazing ground. In terms of suckler numbers, there are approximately 440,000 suckler cows in Scotland, being farmed on around 9,000 beef farms. The average size of a suckler herd in Scotland is 60 cows, much greater than the average suckler herd in Ireland which stands at 17 cows. However, it is all relative given that the average beef farm size in Scotland is over 100ha, compared to 36ha here in Ireland. Looking at the financials, average income on lowland cattle and sheep farms in 2017 was £18,252 (€20,570), while subsidies and payments totalled £34,325 (€38,648) on these farms, on average.
The Farm Profit programme, a joint venture by the Scotland Farmers Journal and ANM Group, was launched in Scotland in spring 2017 and is based on the past successes of the BETTER Farm beef programme, run in Ireland. With the slogan ‘making livestock pay’, the programme includes six monitor farms as well as eight focus groups, comprising of 10 to 15 like-minded farmers, within the trading area of ANM Group which stretches from Caithness to Angus. The main target for the programme is to hit a gross margin of £750/cow (€845/cow) and £80/ewe (€90/ewe). Average gross margins at the programme’s commencement were £340/cow (€383/cow) and £37/ewe (€42/ewe).
An interactive demonstration was the standout beef event at AgriScot agricultural show this year. The event, led by Gavin Hill of SAC Consulting and supported by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) demonstrated how a butcher selects prime cuts and how finishers can meet the butcher’s requirements. The interactive element involved the audience answering questions via electronic handsets.
With a 728kg Simmental steer standing in the centre of the ring, the audience was asked: “What will the carcase weight of this animal be?”
The audience were informed that the carcase weight should be in-or-around 410kg resulting in a kill-out percentage of 56%. The audience was told that target kill-out of well finished cattle should be from 54% to 60%. The butcher also explained that this carcase would be a little bit too heavy for his liking: “We are looking for a carcase between 350kg and 400kg. Anything heavier is too hard to handle.” He also explained that the animal had a larger than desired frame: “We don’t want a sirloin that’s big and thin like this steer would give us. We want smaller chunkier steaks.”
The next animal on show had its body marked into four different sections (picture 1), and the audience was asked to vote on which section had the most expensive cuts of meat and which section contained the least expensive cuts.
The butcher informed the audience that section A contains the most expensive meat cuts, like the sirloin and fillet. Next was section C, which contains the rump and round roasts. After this is section D, which is mainly used for mince, while section B contains the least expensive cuts with the flank and manufacturing beef originating here. On remembering the value of the carcase he said: “the nearer the hoof and the nearer the horns you go, the tougher the meat is.”
The final question asked audience members to say where the silverside (classic Sunday roast) is located in the rump of the animal (picture 2).
The traditional Sunday roast comes from part D of the rump. Part A contains the sirloin and fillet, part B is the rump and part C is the top side. Again, the butcher stressed: “it is not about flashy back-ends on cattle because this is not necessarily the most valuable meat. A longer, thicker animal is far more valuable because there is a higher meat yield in the area of the prime cuts.” Finally, it was also suggested that there will, in time, be moves towards VIA systems to grade carcases which will pay farmers based on the yields of different areas of the carcase and replace the traditional EUROP grading system.
Smith family farm,
Ewan Smith farms 600ac with his family in East Lothian, located 30 minutes east of Edinburgh city. The farm is completely in tillage crops, where wheat and barley are the main crops grown. However, Ewan also has an impressive finishing system running in tandom with the tillage enterprise, with the capacity to hold 340 cattle at any one time. For Ewan, his system is based on buying cheap cattle and using cheap feed sources to get on maximum weight gain.
Cattle purchased are 90% dairy-bred, ideally Montbeliard or Flekveigh but Friesian also contributes largely. All cattle are purchased as steers, normally at the live market and are typically between 12– and 18–months old at liveweights of 300kg to 500kg.All stock are weighed, EID tagged and vaccinated for IBR on arrival. They are vaccinated for fluke and worms at six weeks after this. There are no slats on the farm, meaning all cattle lie on straw beds. They are cleaned every 6–8 weeks.
The system involves finishing the cattle for around 200 days, with an ADG of 1.6kg/day being achieved regularly. Tagret carcase weight for these steers is around 360kg, meaning average kill-out is 50%. Grading ranges between O- and O+. Last week, the base price for steers was £3.74/kg (€4.21/kg) with the same EUROP grading system and age 30– and 36–month age barriers in effect.
However, Ewan’s system is one that would be extremely difficult to implement in Ireland. Given the vast areas of tillage in the area, the farm is self-sufficient in straw and grain. Furthermore, Ewan has access to bi-products of food manufacturing such as pot-ale, draft (wet distiller’s grains), vegetables, and even pure potato starch. While all bi-products of manufacturing, these have extremely high nutritional values for finishing cattle.
Asked about the feed costs and margin per animal per day, Ewan estimated his feed cost to £1.70/head/day (€1.90/head/day) and his margin to be £1.06/head/day (€1.20/head/day).