By Debbie James

Investing £500,000 in a new fattening building has allowed a Pembrokeshire dairy farm to improve daily liveweight gains (DLWG) in beef cattle bred from its own herd.

The shed at Lower House Farm, Spittal, can hold 600 cattle.

The Jenkins family based it on the same design as their cow cubicles, with feed troughs running along the outside instead of having feed passages in the shed itself.

“Our existing sheds had done their day – they were on another farm so having this one on the main unit is a huge labour saving,’’ says Carwyn Jenkins, who farms with his father John, and sister Ceri.

It takes 30 minutes to feed all 600 cattle once a day and the shed is slatted so there is no bedding needed.

“It was a significant investment but for us it was better to spend money on getting the right shed and reducing labour input,’’ says Carwyn.

The open-sided 12-bay shed has four slatted pens, each holding 150 cattle; there is also a small straw-bedded pen for any animals that need extra attention.

There is a nine-foot overhang over the feed trough on one side of the building and a lean-to on the other side which covers the other feed trough and a handling area.

Having the feed troughs on the outside of the building provides more space inside because there are no feed passages.

“We don’t get any feed waste which can be an issue when you are pushing up silage in a feed passage and there is muck on the wheels of the machine. It costs a lot of money to make silage so we don’t want to waste any,’’ says Carwyn.

“Having external troughs mean we don’t have to lock cattle into pens when we are putting the feed out so it is safer and takes less work.’’

The slatted floor, which is covered with rubber mats, sits over a 750,000 gallon underground slurry tank.

Since the new shed was commissioned, cattle are averaging 1.7kg DLWG in their last 90 days – before it was 1.2kg.

“We put this down to the cattle being more comfortable and having feed available all day,’’ says Carwyn.

The higher growth rates mean that on average cattle are finishing three months earlier.

There are 1,000 head of beef cattle on the farm at any one time, from newborn calves to cattle finishing at 27-28 months.

The dairy herd is a flying herd so all replacements are bought-in which means that all dairy cows can be inseminated to a beef sire, to produce 300 a year for rearing; another 100 calves are bought in every year.

Cows are inseminated to a British blue but it is getting increasingly challenging to keep them within weight specification, says John.

“We aim for 400 deadweight for heifers and steers,’’ he says.

Calves are reared in individual pens in calf stables which each hold five calves.

These were imported from Holland at a cost £5,000 each but John says calves perform so well in them that he is intending to buy more.

Calves are reared in these on whole milk until they are six weeks old and are then transferred to straw-bedded pens in a nearby building in groups of five on a diet of calf pellets and straw.

From 12 weeks they are reared in group of 40 on an outlying farm on grass silage and wholecrop before they are turned out to graze.

It is a low-cost system with cattle at grass for two grazing seasons, the cattle graze land inaccessible by the dairy herd.

At housing, stores get a ration of 28kg grass silage and 2kg wholecrop and fattening cattle in the last 90 days received 10kg wholecrop, 20kg grass silage and 5kg fattening blend.

Heifers and steers are sold to Woodhead and some steers to ABP, with 400 cattle slaughtered annually.