Making best use of home-grown forages is key to any livestock business and for beef farmer John Thomson, from Hilton of Beath, Kelty, Fife, that means relying on a TMR ration comprising silage, Maxammon barley, Harbro Grampian blend, straw and a cattle max rearer with Rumitech minerals to complement the treated barley.

John, who is the third generation of his family to farm at Hilton of Beath, which comprises around 1200acres to include 564 acres of arable and 636acres of grass, farms in partnership with his wife Natalie and parents, James and Anne. Scott Bernard is the sole employee.

In all, the unit is home to some 255 black Limousin cross suckler cows, plus another 20 pure Limousins, with all bulled by a Limousin, to produce quality forward stores and finished cattle. The bulk (175) calve in the spring between February and April with the remainder in the autumn between August and November. The best of the heifers are retained to calve down at 30months of age, with others bought in as required.

With 564 acres of arable ground, some 110 acres of winter barley is grown to produce feed, along with 220 acres of spring barley and around 180 acres of wheat. All straw is retained for bedding and feed with extra bought in to supplement that produced on-farm. All cattle are on straw bedded courts and are housed over winter with sheep brought in to make use of any additional grass at this time.

In previous years, John used to bruise his own barley, feeding it with a 34% protein cake, but quickly found that bought in protein costs were escalating. Of equal concern was the health of young bulls when they were nearing fattening with the free access to bruised barley putting them at a heightened risk of acidosis with some struggling to stay on their feet. As soon as this happened, John found they started to lose weight rather than gain.

As a result, Harbro specialist, David Allan suggested trying Maxammon, a flexible feeding system which enhances the nutritional value of grain and increases the pH of dry barley from 6 to 9, thereby allowing higher cereal levels to be fed without the risk of acidosis. The treatment also increases the protein level of the grain by 30%, with the unique form of ammonia protein in Maxammon grain stimulating rumen microbes improving the digestibility of the whole diet.

“We agreed to give Maxammon a try at the start of winter 2016 and have never looked back," said John. "As well as needing to improve the cattle's health, the other reason for trying it was to utilise our home-grown barley and reduce the amount of bought in protein which Maxammon has allowed us to do.”

“After starting Maxammon in 2016, the first batch of bullocks we sold that winter were sold three weeks earlier than previous years and were 50kgs heavier; I was delighted with the results. I can push cattle as hard as I like using it and have had no issues with feet or acidosis. All our cattle are tagged using EID and are weighed every time they go through the crush; I'm finding DLWG up by around 0.20kg head/day using Maxammon.”

John sells a large proportion of his cereals and retains the rest for feed. After drying the grain at harvest he used to mix all his cattle feed on farm with the mixer wagon but found they struggled for both time and room with their old bruiser taking forever to get through 60 tonnes. He now uses the Harbro feedmixing service which comes in about once every five weeks during the winter. However, the service is fantastic, according to John. "It is always punctual and they bruise the 60 tonnes in less than two hours so doesn't take long!"

Like thousands of other UK farmers, John is unsure what the future holds but is focussed on identifying opportunities for increasing efficiency where he can.

“There's always improvements to be made but like everyone we will need to see how Brexit works out and in turn what our subsidy systems will be like after that,” he said.

What he is certain about, however, is that Maxammon will continue to feature in his ration as he tries to make the best of what is grown on-farm to boost the sustainability of his operation and futureproof the business as much as he can.

John Thomson is the third generation member of his family to farm at Hilton of Beath Farm in Kelty, Fife. His grandfather came to the farm as a tenant in 1948 where he started rearing heifers for his father’s dairy before moving on to breed pedigree Aberdeen Angus. Having subsequently bought the farm from the Coal Board in 1991, the family have since then acquired two further farms in the village to become the 550 acre site it is today. It is still run in partnership with John and his wife, Natalie, along with John’s Mum and Dad. In addition, the farm has one employee, Scott Bernard to bolster the on-farm resources, especially at the busy times of year.