BEEF - Maximising output with a Stabiliser herd

17 Jan 2018

The Norrie family run Denhead of Arbirlot Farm in Arbroath, a family business owned by brothers Douglas and Frank, with Frank’s son Robin now handling most of the day to day management. The farm has been in the family since the nineteenth century and has been evolving ever since, with the most notable advance being the introduction of cattle in the mid-1980s in an area that is known for being mostly arable. The farm comprises of 350 acres, including 160 acres of barley, 100 acres of rotational grass and 20 acres of rough grazing with the rest left for potatoes and vegetables. Robin feels the whole enterprise benefits from being a mixed farm.

The farm have a suckler herd of 140 Stabilisers, a breed growing in popularity which is made up of 50% native and 50% continental breeds. The Norries chose to move to Stabilisers for their reputation of being easy to calve, with early puberty, low birth weights, high natural fertility with moderate size cows and a low feed intake. Robin also liked the performance recording that goes with the breed and comments that ‘the data driven approach is one that is very welcome to the beef industry and represents a shift that will undoubtedly help farmers to monitor their performance better as they strive to be more efficient and ultimately more profitable.’

To maximise the performance of his herd, Robin works with Harbro specialist, Alistair Stewart to develop a ration in line with the on farm objectives.

Unlike some farms, the Norries are focussed not on producing big cows but on ‘maximising output by reducing cow weight and getting more kilos of meat per acre. Producing smaller calves means they are weaning lighter and achieving more kilos of beef on the same feed.’ This enables them to achieve a healthy turnover on a relatively small acreage.

Part of Harbro’s nutritional service includes forage mineral analysis and following a test earlier in the year in which grass showed low levels of copper and zinc, a change in nutrition was introduced. Adding Harbro Super Suckler minerals which include Cu-Tek (copper) and Zn-Tek (zinc), these deficiencies were addressed with the added benefit of Robin seeing higher conception rates, healthy reproductive and maternity traits as well as an improvement in retained cleansings and the production of healthy vigorous calves.

Most of the females are sold for breeding with 10-15 retained. Male calves are left entire and finished on farm. They are fed Maxammon treated barley along with Harbro’s complementary mineral which has helped to improve intakes and growth rates in comparison to a previous ration of barley treated with prograin. Robin has also found that the bulls look much healthier and are finishing quicker, with growth rates from weaning to slaughter increasing from an average of 1.5kg/day to 1.7kg/day. Last year they were killed at 14/15 months achieving 54 Us and six Rs; if they aren’t finished by 16 months Robin looks to work out why. The goal for the sucklers is to produce calves that are half their weight and Robin analyses patterns in the herd and whittles out the cows that aren’t performing. All aspects of performance are monitored in order to control as many variables as possible and futureproof the business in what is undoubtedly a volatile and uncertain market.

The farm is nearly self sufficient in terms of grain and straw and Robin uses Harbro’s ammonia straw treatment service to maximise usage. The treatment requires the straw to be slightly damp so makes for an economical use of the straw when it might be too wet for bedding.

In terms of health, the Norries run a high health scheme on the farm, another variable which they try to control as much as possible. They vaccinate for everything they can and as a result have not had a breeding female die on farm in over five years.

In order to expand his herd and following initial positive results with the breed, Robin has already ordered 15 new pure Stabiliser heifers which he is expecting to arrive in April/May 2018 ready to bull at 14/15 months by June. Due to high demand there is currently a waiting list. This is the first time that the farm has bought females for 11 years and to keep numbers up they also intend to keep as many suitable heifers as possible for the foreseeable future.

Further down the line the plan is to increase the purity of the herd, keeping a close eye on heritable traits with the aim of producing some good breeding bulls to sell through the Stabiliser Company in the next few years. Robin’s approach will continue to be a progressive one with his continuing performance being put down to a finely tuned recipe of breeding, nutrition and health.

Pictured Robin Norrie and Harbro Specialist 

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