USING WHAT they can grow themselves, the Thomson family from Hilton of Beath, Kelty, in Fife, has shown that attention to detail can pay off, especially when it comes to reducing feed costs and promoting health.

The current family member there, John, is the third generation to farm at Hilton of Beath – 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 has since acquired two further farms in the village to become the 550-acre operation it is today. The total area now farmed, though, is 1200 acres, included rented ground. It is run in a partnership with John and his wife, Natalie, along with John’s mum and dad.

The cattle operation is comprised of 255 black Limousin cross suckler cows, plus another 20 pure Limousins, with all cows going back to the Limousin bull. The aim is to produce quality forward stores and also fatten some too, with 175 cows calving in the spring (Feb-April) and 100 in the autumn (Aug-Nov.)

The replacement policy is to bull heifers with half being home bred and the other half bought in. The heifers are calved down at 30 months.

For feed, the Thomsons make best use of what is grown on farm, with 110 acres of winter barley (all of which is fed to the cattle,) 220 acres of spring barley and around 180 acres of wheat. The rest of the arable land is laid to temporary grass.

All straw is retained, with extra bought in to supplement that produced on-farm. All cattle are on straw bedded courts and are housed in winter. Once the cattle are housed, John then takes on wintering sheep to keep the grass in trim – though there might not be that much around this year!

The cattle receive a carefully planned TMR ration of silage, Maxammon barley, Harbro Grampian blend, straw and Cattle Max rearer, with Rumitech minerals, to complement the treated barley. Spring calvers are fed silage and straw and the back end calvers also receive 1kg of barley.

The first 35 bull calves born in the spring are left as bulls and fattened on ad lib Maxammon barley and straw. 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 the bulls when they were nearly fat 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.

To address this, David Allan, John’s Harbro specialist suggested he try Maxammon. This provides a flexible feeding system which enhances the nutritional value of grain and increases the pH of dry barley from 6 to 9, allowing for 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 the treated grain stimulating rumen microbes improving the digestibility of the whole diet. John commented: “We agreed to give Maxammon a try at the start of winter 2016 and have never looked back. 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 bought in protein which Maxammon has allowed us to do.

“After starting using it in 2016, the first batch of bullocks we sold that winter were sold three weeks earlier than previous years and were 50kg heavier and I was delighted with the results. I can push cattle as hard as I like using Maxammon 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,” he added.

While John sells a large proportion of his cereals and retains the rest for feed, he used to mix all his cattle feed on farm with a mixer wagon but struggled for both time and room. He now uses Harbro’s feed mixing service which comes in about once every five weeks during the winter. The 60 tonnes he needs is processed in less than two hours, which is much quicker than bruising the barley himself.

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

He concludes: “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.”