WITH the majority of prime beef cattle and young bulls now being sold deadweight, more finishers are becoming attuned to the need to avoid out-of-spec’ penalties.

But, they are also keen to ensure cattle do not fall too far short of their processor’s maximum top weight and forfeit potential value.

For many professional finishers, regular weighing is the solution, even though they might consider themselves to be fairly accurate at estimating weight by eye.

One Scottish producer, however, has discovered that the stress involved in regular ‘manual’ weighing sessions could slow down or even temporarily halt an animal’s growth rate. This is something which can go undetected.

The family business, run by Iain Green and family, at Corskie, Garmouth, in Morayshire, totals 1716ha (4240 acres) and comprises of three owned farms along with a number of contract farming agreements. They have some 905ha (2235 acres) of cropping along with cattle, sheep and pigs.

The cattle enterprise includes the Greens’ well-known 180-cow pedigree Corskie Simmental herd.

This has been a closed herd for many years, only buying in bulls, and runs in tandem with approximately 380 Simmental cross cows and in-calf heifers. Progeny are reared for both pedigree replacements, market stores and some which are taken on to finishing.

Iain Green commented: “All we finish here are heifers not suitable for breeding, plus autumn-born young bulls from the suckler herd and all the pedigree Simmental bulls we consider not good enough for one reason or another for sale as breeding animals. Bulls are finished on ad-lib bought-in ration plus hay and bedded on straw.”

Regularly involved in trialling new ideas – Corskie is in a three-year monitor farm programme – the farm has been evaluating a new automatic weighing system for beef cattle in which the animals voluntarily enter the weigher with no human persuasion.

Results recorded from this drew the Greens’ attention to the fact that the regular handling to assess fat depth and eye muscle by ultrasound, as part of their Breedplan recording programme with the British Simmental Cattle Society, impacted on weight gain.

Laura, one of Iain’s daughters, said: “When we did this with a bunch of 32 pedigree bulls, the automatic weighings afterwards, revealed it took between seven to 10 days before these bulls began to put on weight again. We are quite sure this can be put down simply to the stress of being handled.

“Normally, you just wouldn’t know that this was happening and so anything which can be automated to minimise the need to handle cattle has got to be good for both men and cattle, and of course, it will reduce the days to slaughter.”

The weighing system used is the Ritchie Beef Monitor, which is designed to work with groups of up to 50 animals, similar to the group sizes used at Corskie. It is a free access crate with load-bar weighing platform which the cattle visit several times a day to drink.

Carrying EID eartags, the cattle are automatically identified as they lower their heads to the water, and the weight is recorded and transmitted to cloud-based storage. However many weighings have been recorded for an individual, they are averaged at the end of each day to produce both the actual weight and updated daily gain – weights therefore are a combination of full or empty stomachs and bladders.

“We have found that some animals might visit 12 times or so in a 24-hour period but the readings are averaged for the day and provide us with a very accurate indication of weight on an on-going basis,” said Laura.

“We have tried many innovative technologies and systems as a Monitor Farm and the weighing system has revealed some interesting data we would otherwise have been unaware of, on top of the basic purpose of keeping a close eye on animal performance.”

Iain added: “This system is giving us the accuracy I could not achieve by eye and would have to weigh manually. We have been weighing pedigree animals conventionally for a long time and I always thought I had a good eye for assessing weight, but I know it is not necessarily so.

“What it means is we are not sending in cattle which will be penalised on being over-weight – in our case 400kg dw for our buyer – but also we can take them closer to target weight safely. The system flags up all animals calculated to be 100kg off finishing.”

He said he would be prepared to pay the circa £4500 for an automatic weighing unit for each pen of as many groups of 50 animals as they might ultimately decide to finish.

“We send bulls in at 13 to 14 months old weighing 700kg liveweight and since we have been using the Beef Monitor, our average deadweight has risen from 376kg to 399kg. That is an extra 23kg of value per beast and on that basis, coupled with few weight penalties, I think this system can certainly pay for itself,” he added.

The Corskie cattle actually grade well with the majority ‘U’ and rarely any ‘R’s, and consistently fat class 3 or 4, and on top of that, there is the potential for native breed premium.

“We have seen the benefit of using the Simmental bull on Angus cross, and Hereford cross black and white cows, but we are also now using the Beef Shorthorn which is doing a good job and the progeny can be eligible for a premium, depending where you sell them,” said Iain.