English beef producers have a major opportunity to improve returns
and reduce costs in the post-subsidy world by finishing continental-cross
stock in particular at a younger age, according to the latest
English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) analyses of BCMS slaughter
The initial 2005 BCMS prime cattle data reveal an average age
at slaughter for all male animals (including young bulls and
steers) of 619 days compared to 623 days in 2004. This suggests
little change in the large proportion of stock - almost
50% - being slaughtered at over two years of age, or the
20%-plus being taken up to the 27-30 month age bracket. What
is more, the figures show the average age at slaughter for females
increasing year-on-year to a current 690 days.
Although some animals slaughtered up to May last year could
still have been subject to BSP retention periods from the old
subsidy system, this underlines the considerable opportunity
many producers have to adapt their regimes to reduce finishing
Detailed EBLEX analysis of commercial continental-cross steer
and heifer slaughter performance have, for instance, revealed
no worthwhile increases in average carcase weight beyond 23-24
months of age - and certainly not enough to pay for the
average £1/day costs recorded in extensive beef finishing
systems in 2004/05.
As well as being at increasing risk of over-fatness and over-weight
penalties, older stock have also been shown to have a generally
poorer conformation to their younger, faster-grown contemporaries.
With potential to save £30/month and earn valuable extra
carcase returns from faster finishing, EBLEX advises producers
to investigate ways of developing their established regimes to
finish the majority of continental-cross steers and heifers at
under two years of age. Especially so since the current generation
of cross-bred cattle has the ability to grow fast enough to finish
at an earlier age without compromising carcase weights.
In addition to allowing better feed conversion efficiencies,
of course, faster finishing offers the opportunity to improve
cash flow while spreading fixed costs over a larger number of
animals and greater weight of beef each year.
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