Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Building up a business in beef

June 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Profiles

Judith Tooth meets beef farmer and baling contractor Andrew Lloyd.

What do you give a boy for his 12th birthday? A new skateboard? Next season’s football strip? The latest video game? Not for Andrew Lloyd. His present was hiding in a pen – the livestock kind – and took him completely by surprise. Two heifer calves were waiting for him, a gift from his father, Terry.

“I think Dad bought them from Bury market,” says Andrew. “He kept pigs – he still does, for BQP – but I guess he thought I’d like cattle. My mother kept some cattle. So I looked after the calves, bred from one, gradually built up numbers, worked for other farmers … and now I’ve got 1150!”

By 2003 Andrew had grown his beef business enough to buy a farm, a former Redwings Horse Sanctuary site between Norwich and Aylsham, next door to his father’s pig unit.

He gradually took on more land, some owned, some rented, and his beef suckler cows now stand at 250 Limousin crosses. He takes their calves and as many again of bought-in stores to slaughter, supplying them to Morrisons and local abattoir HG Blake Ltd.

“I usually buy herd replacements from up north where the cattle are hardier,” says Andrew.

“I look out for dispersal sales and have a buyer, Stephen Grahams, to select the best animals for me. I lost some grazing last year so took the opportunity to get rid of some of the older cows, but I expect to build numbers up again.”

Breeding policy

The cows are put to Charolais and Limousin bulls and calve between April and June, indoors or out, depending on conditions. They then graze in groups on marshes either locally at Skeyton or further afield at Wroxham, Ludham and Beccles.

Weaning takes place gradually in groups of around 25 from the end of October to January to limit the spread of any bugs. The majority of the cattle will then stay indoors, moving slowly from a growing ration to a fattening ration. They are slaughtered at 18 to 24 months at 380 to 430kg deadweight.

“I buy in stores at 10 to 15 months of age, either from Newark cattle market or privately from local producers, to fill what would otherwise be a gap in sales. I try to buy continentals to match the diet and the system here. I know there’s renewed interest in the more traditional breeds, but weight and volume is more important to me than a premium, and it’s what my system is set up for.”

There is no grazing on the home farm, the land used instead to grow three forage crops every two years: rye whole crop, drilled in autumn and cut in early July, followed by ryegrass, cut the following May, and finally maize. Agrii is contracted to fertilise and spray the crops, and Uttings of Bungay look after forage harvesting of rye and maize.

Feed policy

“Silage is the key feed, and I build on that to make up the rations. I’d rather cut earlier than later to ensure good quality. We’ve made 80 per cent of the grass silage now, but there are some later cuts in July on land in environmental schemes, so we stack the bales from each field separately.

“We’ve been growing rye for about four years now, and I’m pleased with the way it performs on the light land here, the volume of crop produced and the quality of the silage we make from it. It’s quite dry, sweet-smelling, and the cattle really enjoy it.

“Then we buy in concentrates – mainly from Duffields and Anglia Farmers – to make up the rations. Everything is tested by a nutritionist and levels adjusted according to stage of growth.”

A new Wareing cattle shed is going up to hold 300 cattle, matching the capacity of the existing building. The frame and roof are up, and groundworks are being done in-house.

Due for completion in October, it will have a higher roof for better airflow, and the cattle will be fully, rather than partially, under cover, to save on straw. And more spacious handling facilities at one end of the building will make for easier management.

A third building has been ordered for late 2019 to house a further 200 cattle alongside plans to take on more land for growing forage crops and for grazing.

“At the moment breeding and fattening cattle are together over winter, but I’d like them to be at separate locations to reduce the spread of any bugs: with April this year being so wet, the dampness did lead to higher calf mortality than we’ve seen in previous years.”

Contracting

Alongside the beef enterprise, Andrew runs six balers and three chasers for silage, hay and straw production for customers as far as Wymondham to the south west and Martham near the coast.

Some are specialist livestock producers who don’t want the responsibility of looking after machines and staff for baling; others are big arable farmers who want a contractor to look after baling, chasing and clearing while they get on with drilling.

“I started contract baling in 2001 with one machine, baling straw for the farmer next door. Now I run two round balers, one Welder and one McHale, and four New Holland square balers. I have my own muck for straw arrangement, mucking out four times a year for delivery straight to a local farm, and collecting straw at harvest, but I buy a lot of additional straw off the field and move it directly to other customers’ farms.”

Machinery and labour is shared with local potato grower Jeremy Leadley. They each own their own tractors and employ their own staff – Andrew employs three, a stockman, a driver and an all-rounder – with a further three on a self-employed basis for the grass and straw – and then hire from each other. It’s a system that works well for both businesses.

Andrew’s business has come a long way since he was given those two calves. In 2013, he and his wife moved into a new house on the farm, and they have a young daughter and a baby on the way. What surprises might be in store for their 12th birthdays?

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