‘Too many suckler calves are under fed and not reaching their growth potential’

The vast majority of suckler calves are not reaching their full growth potential, according to Harper Adams’ Beef Specialist Simon Marsh.

Marsh was speaking earlier this week at a beef conference in Greenmount College, Co. Antrim which was jointly hosted by the Ulster Farmers’ Union, CAFRE, AFBI and LMC.

Part of the problem is due to the fact that calves’ dams do not have enough milk, he said.

“Another factor could be the type of creep feed offered to calves. The most recent results from the college’s network of suckler focus farms would indicate that suckler calves should be fed a high starch creep, not one that is relatively high in fibre.”

Starch will encourage calves to put on body condition, not frame, thereby making them easier to finish at younger ages.

Marsh confirmed that the top 1% of the suckler herd should have a cow efficiency rating of 56% at 200 days.

“There is absolutely no need to have suckler cows weighing 750kg plus. Approximately 600kg is more than adequate.

“So for a cow this weight, she should be producing calves that average 336kg when they are 200 days old. This figure is an amalgamation of both bull and heifer calf weights at that 200-day stage.”

Marsh said that suckler producers should adopt the ‘golden triangle’ approach to herd management, which gives equal emphasis to nutrition, genetics and health.

The days are over when sucker sires should be selected on the basis of them having a good back end.

“Carcass length is of now of primary importance and bulls should be selected on the basis of their performance figures – not on their appearance the day they are purchased. Genetics will always win out.”

The Harper Adams lecturer also pointed out that the current EUROP Grid is not fit for purpose, when it comes to classifying beef cattle.

“It takes no account of marbling within the meat, which is a key indicator of taste.

“Significantly, marbling is not included in the classification schemes now operating in the United States and other parts of the world.”