An array of farm tours confirmed for NBA Beef Expo spectacular

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The NBA has announced the agenda for the prestigious Beef Expo Farm tours which take farmers around three exceptional beef farms across Shropshire and the Welsh Borders on Thursday 24th May this year.

In line with the event theme ‘Beef Up Our Future’, these exceptional farmers have been chosen as they have all adapted their farm business models to create a more profitable and sustainable future for their farms. This forum for knowledge exchange has sold out for three years running and is not to be missed - early booking is highly recommended.

The first farm will be James Evans’ Partridge Farm situated in Linley, near Bishops Castle which spans just over 800 hectares (2,000 acres) and is home to his 300 Stabiliser suckler cows and 1,000 Lleyn ewes. The sucklers are split into two units, a 180-cow spring-calving herd (Partridge Farm) and a 120-cow autumn-calving herd (Walcot Farm) both producing quality maternal high health status breeding stock and bulls finished in a semi intensive system.

In 2007, James who farms in partnership with his brother, Rob, and father, John, converted from traditional dairy cross sucklers to an all Stabiliser performance recorded herd, completely overhauling his beef enterprise. Performance recording was a key player in the decision to transfer to the breed.

James believes strongly that beef producers should make use Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), allowing them to identify animals that are truly genetically superior rather than relying on aesthetics which are often not directly correlated to performance.

As well as weighing cattle to calculate growth rates, James ultrasound scans all of his breeding stock to calculate their Muscle depth and Fat depth EBVs, and analyse the muscling along their loins, the most valuable area of the carcass. These values are used not only to indicate carcass quality of progeny but also to choose heifers on their ability to maintain body condition score (BCS) once mature.

The system is working well, James is currently achieving 95% of calves reared of cows put to the bull and his bulls are finished in 12 to 14 months at approx. 360kg. James has recently taken the step towards becoming organic and has invested in new equipment to convert to precision grazing, to make the very most of the farms pasture.

Speaking on the recent changes, James stated: “Grass is often the most underutilized feedstuff on suckler farms. Having invested in kiwitech equipment to set up a precision grazing system last year we hope to increase grass production and utilise the grass far more effectively. The aim will also be to increase the grazing season with out wintering options being considered. By correctly managing the grass and having a grazing plan in place we hope to grow more grass than we previously did when using bagged fertiliser. This year will see our breeding Bulls being grazed and sold off grass targeting growth rates of 1.6kg/day . The majority of our bulls will go on to suckler herds so it is vital that they and their progeny can convert grass efficiently.”

The NBA Beef Expo farm walk will visit Marc Jones, a farmer who has turned the family’s 500 acre tenanted farm from a standard mixed farm reliant on subsidies to a modern profitable system which can survive without them.

Trefnant Hall farm is a 500-acre tenanted farm situated on the Powis Estate which is run by Marc Jones in partnership with his parents David and Jane. Prior to 2009 the farm lambed 1200 Welsh Mules inside in February and kept 120 Limousin cross suckler cows, producing store cattle at 14 months. The system was reliant on housing and concentrates and unfortunately did not achieve profits higher than the single farm payment.

In 2009, Marc took part in the Hybu Cig Cymru Scholarship to New Zealand and came back with new ideas to improve the farm’s profitability. His aims were to improve utilisation of grass and forage crops on the farm to reduce the cost of production as well as maximising stocking rate and output.

Fast forward nine years. The sheep enterprise now consists of 800 Lleyn and Romney ewes which lamb outside and are outwintered on fodder beet.

The cattle enterprise has changed dramatically too. Marc now buys in approx. 300 Angus and Hereford calves from Meadow Quality each winter and rears them through to finish at 20-24 months, grazing them through the spring and summer months and out-wintering on fodder beat. The calves are then marketed to Dunbia or through Meadow Quality at 250-320kg dead weight.

A further 450 calves a year are contract reared from three to 15 weeks of age for Dunbia. All calves are sourced from Co-op and Sainsbury’ dairy farms and are sold on to contract finishers.

The farm has seen a massive turnaround in both output and profitability and now aims to produce one tonne of live weight per hectare as well as a profit which is three times the single farm payment.

Speaking on the changes Marc said: “Our priority is to utilise grass and forage crops to reduce our cost base, the out wintering of stock and paddock grazing has been a key component of this.

“We have developed the farm greatly over this period, with the majority of the farm being reseeded, tracks being installed and water and electric fencing infrastructure being put in place. This will hopefully put the farm in a good place with Brexit being on the horizon.”

The third farm tour will take visitors to Frank and Jonathan Cornes farm, at Bayston Hill just outside Shrewsbury. Here, he and his family finish approx. 1800 stores, bought in from local markets and fed on home grown fodder beet, grain and grass silage as well as ad lib straw. The ration, fed ad lib in hoppers also contains live yeast to prevent acidosis and a 38% protein pellet.

They aim to finish cattle within three to four months, killing out as R4L/-U4L at approx. 400kg deadweight into Woodhead’s. On arrival cattle are all wormed and vaccinated against IBR and blackleg before being housed in straw bedded yards in groups of approx. 50. Muck from the unit is then utilised on the 1000 acres of arable ground.

Two of the sheds on farm are approved finishing units (AFUs), with a third due to be added. These sheds have excellent biosecurity and provide an outlet for cattle bought directly from herds currently down with TB, an increasing issue in the area.

The Cornes also finish approx. 15,000 lambs on stubble turnips grown on both their own and neighbouring farms, utilising land from July through to March, that is then used for spring cropping of beet and maize.

Commenting on the beef enterprise Jonny stated: “We try and utilise as much of our own home-grown feed which also helps to add value to our produce. The cattle do very well off grain and with the addition of live yeast and plenty of ad lib straw and silage we have seen very few cases of acidosis.”

Bookings can be made at www.beefexpo.co.uk, farm tour tickets are £30 (inc VAT) for NBA members and £36 (inc VAT) for non-members and are inclusive of all transport and a hot lunch on farm.