Simplicity is the key

Thursday the Feb 4th was the first official CMC Beyond the Gate farm visit by kind permission of Mr David Merrin and Sons, Higher Hendham farm.

A group of Crediton Milling customers with a particular interest in intensive beef rearing and finishing visited the farm in the heart of the South Hams. David rears and finishes 2500-3000 cattle/year on average. These vary from Friesian bulls and steers to native bred heifers and steers, which are a new enterprise to this farm. David sees the direction he wants to go dictated by fluctuating prices and a changing industry. It means rearing an animal with an established market demand that utilises forages better.

David rears everything on farm with calves sourced at around 50kg taken through to finish. Most of the animals are from TB restricted herds.

Simplicity is the key to a very streamlined system, with up 500 calves fed and checked in a maximum time of 2 hrs by 1-2 labour units.

David showed the keen group of farmers around the site, first looking at the calf rearing sheds through to the rearing sheds and the feed bunkers and finally on to a finishing unit located on a different site. Health and welfare are paramount, from disease control in calf rearing to treatment of disease that crop up on farm.

All cattle are grazed at least once to maximise growth from economic feed stuffs, with David a firm believer in the power of well managed grazed grass, as a quality and economic feed. My personal opinion is that many more beef producers should not discount well managed, quality grazing a very important part of their farming practice.

Silage fields are shut up as grass starts to get away from the cattle after the first round of grazing. A focus on making quality silage is very apparent. Rations are all mixed on farm with forages the back bone of the diet, straights are used in large volumes including distillers, cereal grains, stock feed and fibre from chopped straw as well as grass and maize silage. This is to control costs but he admits this doesn’t suit all systems.

David is a real character with a very insightful and unique perspective of the meat industry. He does what many farmers in the country struggle with, in that he looks at and tries to understand the market he is producing for and tailors his business efforts to suit it. Costs are very well recognised and controlled with many on farm decisions made in a very considered manner.

I got the impression that David really knows his industry and cost of production inside out. It was a fantastic trip that left the attendees with many questions and equally many new ideas and answers. It was refreshing to see simplicity at the heart of a very successful business. I feel that it is far too easy to get lost in the myriad of complicated systems and tools in this industry and forget that simplicity works.

In Summary

  • Know your cost of production and the market you are selling to.
  • Create a product that is right for your market, to suit spec but not to an excess.
  • Focus on forage, grazed and conserved, as it’s the cheapest source of nutrient on farm.
  • Simplicity is king to control cost and eliminate variables.
  • Consider all decisions made on your farm very carefully from siting a building to major changes in direction.
  • Attention to detail is key.

If you are interested in being kept up to date with the CMC Beyond the Gate group and any up and coming talks please contact Joe Banks or add us on twitter @CMCBtg.