By Debbie James

A Welsh livestock farm is increasing feed efficiency in its suckler cow herd by reducing cow size.

Gwion Owen and his father, Ifor, run 300 Stabiliser cows at Ty Nant, Corwen, with cows calving in an eight-week block from May 1.

Average cow weight in the younger herd is 550kg while in the older herd it is 620kg.

The Owens are continuing to drive mature cow size down through recording and genetics.

This approach is enabling the farm to support more cows on the same acreage – it is carrying 25 per cent more liveweight/ha, Gwion estimates.

He also rations the silage intakes of dry suckler cows according to body condition, resulting in forage savings of around £50/head.

Silage was previously fed to appetite – around 30-35kg/head/day – but cows were too fat at calving.

After analysing silage quality and comparing it to required intakes, Gwion calculated that he was exceeding their actual energy requirements.

He now measures their body condition at the start of housing and groups accordingly.

With BCSs generally at 3.5-4 at housing, silage intakes are rationed to no more than daily maintenance requirements.

This results in cows dropping a condition score before calving with no detrimental impact on health and welfare, says Gwion.

Cows are allocated around 21kg/day, enough to meet their maintenance requirements, and calve at mostly BCS 2.5.

“Cow cover and what I feed her takes her through the winter,’’ says Gwion.

Despite cows clearing up their daily silage allocation in a reasonably quick time, they show no sign of agitation, he reports.

“I was worried that they would be noisy and unsettled day and night but they are content with what they are allocated.

“I am confident that I can keep cows on a lot less than I would once have fed them and it is costing me less to keep them over the winter.’’

The business had been seeking ways to cut costs because it is unable to outwinter cattle on the farm, which rises to 1,550 feet and is in a high rainfall region.

“Housing cows is an expensive way to keep suckler cows but we don’t have the climate for outwintering, it is either housing or exiting beef production,’’ Gwion concedes.

Adding straw to the diet was cost prohibitive so he has opted to feed stemmy, bulky-cut silage at around 10ME.

Blocks of silage are placed in the feed passageways of sheds with cows feeding from either side and only enough dispensed to meet their requirements.

“We feed with a shear grab and we know that each grab weighs 420kg so we allocate according to the number of cows in the group,’’ Gwion explains.

Rotational grazing is another strategy he is using to reduce costs and drive up production.

The combination of efficiency changes should put the business in a competitive position going forward, he hopes.

“It all comes down to the bottom line, we are all predicting that the beef industry is going to be challenging so we are having to drive the things that are going to be more impactful,’’ says Gwion.

“The changes we have made not only allow us to keep more cattle but to reduce our fertiliser and concentrate use.’’