Forage focus farms


Beef & Lamb
Project code:
01 March 2010 - 28 February 2011
AHDB Beef & Lamb
Project leader:
Lesley Stubbings

About this project

The Problem:

Correct all year round management of forage is fundamental to all beef and sheep producers.  High forage diets, when compared to concentrate dependent rations, can be cheaper but require significant management to ensure performance is maintained.  Many beef and sheep producers do not appreciate what forage can do, so examples are needed to generate interest and to demonstrate best practice.  Farms have been identified that are using forage to their maximum, which benefits the cost of production per kg but can also highlight the use of feed that is not suitable for human consumption for meat production.  This has the benefit of sustainability, for the individual farm business and for the image of the industry.


Project Aims:

  • To highlight the potential of forage by looking at the cost per unit of energy and protein, to reduce the reliance on concentrates.
  • To demonstrate how forage-dependent rations can be incorporated into the farm rotation and into production systems
  • To develop methodology for the production of a forage budget, which takes into consideration growth rates and yields of the crops, and the DM requirements of the stock.
  • To generate ways of costing forages, and compare them against arable or other land uses, e.g cost per kg DM utilised.



Gareth Owen was involved in this pilot – the focus was forage used for TMR feeding and finishing.



Trace elements for lambs

  • Blood samples showed that the lambs treated with the Se+I bolus had raised Se and GSHpX levels following treatment (P<001). There was, however, no significant effect of treatment on growth rate (DLWG). Days to slaughter and carcase weight data yet to be analysed
  • There was no significant effect of either copper or cobalt supplementation on blood levels of copper (plasma, superoxide dismutase or caeruloplasmin). There was no significant effect of treatment with either element
  • There was a significant effect (p<001) of management group – this relates to the quality of the grazing, underlining the importance of this aspect of management
  •  There was also a significant effect of sex with males growing faster than females (p<001)


TMR feeding of ewes

  • The total cost per ewe was £3.59 which is very low given the length of the housed period (10-11 weeks  pre-lambing) compared to £5.95 per ewe for 10 week housed period for straw and concentrate system.
  • In the longer term the integration of Brewers grains is to be explored because of their potential as a sustainable protein source compared to imported soya
  • One negative issue this year was the incidence of prolapse (about 5%), possibly due to lucerne and Red Clover being fed together and having oestrogenic activity to precipitate the prolapses and/or they also lead to soap‘ formation in the rumen resulting in a bloat type effect.


TMR finishing of lambs

  • Initial compensatory DLWGs were high and as a result the FCE and cost of gain at that stage was less than 5: 1 (kg dry matter : kg gain) with a cost of approximately £1/kg carcase. As DLWG fell the FCE also fell as did costs – the need to ensure that lambs respond well to the first month indoors is therefore essential.
  • The above underlines the need to explore shearing and increasing the UDP content of the diet even further for the first 3-4 weeks post-housing as means of improving the compensatory response.
  • Lambs not finishing in the first 4-6 weeks had low levels of performance, taking a long time to finish at high cost. Clearly some of these would have had health problems underlining the need to minimise such effects.
  • However, in terms of the profitability of the flock, it may be that we need to think about inclusion / exclusion parameters in the future, with those falling outside the range that we expect to finish in 6 weeks being sold as stores; the converse being true of course should it be purchased stores – the inclusion criteria need to be set and tight
  • Future plans include trying different TMRs for lamb finishing to look for the most cost effective system, given there is general concern that UK lambs are pricing themselves out of the market at this time – this farm should be able to demonstrate if it is      possible to produce lambs at a unit cost that the customer can afford and leaves the producer a profit.


Planned activity:

The results will be communicated via press articles and will be used as a foundation for the sheep KPI validation project.