Embracing alkalisation of home-grown cereals has allowed Wigton-based beef producer William Miller to halve his cattle finishing cost.
Mr Miller finishes up to 400 cattle a year alongside his 600 ewe sheep farming enterprise at 350 acre High Aketon Farm in Cumbria, buying in mainly eight to twelve month old Limousin and Charolais cross heifers.
The cattle are bought in primarily from auction houses Harrison & Hetherington in Carlisle and Mitchells in Cockermouth. The purchased cattle spend eight to ten months on the farm before being slaughtered at 18 to 20 months of age, with the beef sold to a variety of outlets, including various local butchers.
Mr Miller makes his own grass silage and grows 90 acres of cereals to feed to the livestock. However, until relatively recently he was buying in a proprietary protein blend and rumen buffer to balance the high levels of home-grown crushed barley he was feeding to the beef cattle.
"The finishing diet did a decent job but was relatively expensive and rumen function was always on a knife-edge because of the amount of barley we were feeding."
"I was always concerned about acidosis and consequently needed to buy in both a buffer and a supplementary protein blend." says William.
However an informal on-farm discussion with David Miller from Dugdale Nutrition, soon led to a transformation in fortunes.
"David simply suggested that we could save some money by alkalising our own barley to produce Alkagrain and then wouldn't need to buy in a protein blend or buffer. He'd seen alkalisation in action elsewhere and was a complete convert.
"Effectively, it meant producing our own concentrate feed and it seemed such a straightforward DIY plan that I was a little sceptical initially; but it has worked superbly." he says.
The alkasystem nutritional approach developed by FiveF Alka allows mixed farms to mix their own home-grown cereal with Home n' Dry pellets to produce their own concentrate feed.
Once in contact with moisture, the pellets quickly release ammonia into the grain. The resultant feed is alkaline, as well as having an increased protein content. It is also resistant to vermin whilst being stored on farm.
"We've found it very easy to make our own Alkagrain. By adding 40kg of Home n' Dry per tonne of barley we then get a very stable and digestible concentrate feed - and a cereal crop that has received more than a five-percentage point uplift in protein, which is important." William says.
The cattle are now fed the Alkagrain in a TMR with grass silage without risk or incidence of acidosis.
"It's been a revelation and i'm really pleased with the weight gains we are achieving, which are up to 1.9kg per day for some of the cattle.
"We've also noticed that the livestock are calmer and far more content on this alkalised ration, probably because the rumen is working more efficiently. Dung consistency is better too."
What is more, Mr Miller also says he has made a 50% cost saving, which is the real clincher. "I'm so pleased with the result that i've started recommending the system to other local farmers."
From his High Aketon Farm base, Mr Miller also carries out some machinery contracting work across Cumbria.
"We do some contract dry cereal rolling for a number of local livestock farmers - about 6,000 tonnes annually. Many are feeding their own cereals back to cattle or sheep and are probably in the same situation we were in before switching to alkalisation. I'll certainly be talking to them about it." he says.
Article taken from The Northern Farmer Magazine.