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Stackyard News Oct 07

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    Rapid Finishing of Cattle Still Provides Best Returns

Like all beef farmers, Michael Strother, of Fowberry Moor, Wooler, needed to find a way of replacing £280 per head of subsidy in his suckler herd following the loss of the Suckler Cow and Beef Special Premiums three years ago.

Beef farmer Michael Strother of Fowberry Moor, Wooler
Beef farmer Michael Strother of Fowberry Moor, Wooler

The adoption of a fast feeding regime to get his bull calves finished at 12-13 months of age has gone a long way towards meeting his objective although he is the first to admit that beef cattle prices need to rise further to restore profitability to beef production.

“You have to know your costs and make the business efficient,” he says. “Its not rocket science. The aim must be high performance genetics and a feeding regime which achieves good feed conversion efficiency and fast liveweight gain.”

Regular monitoring of performance is seen as vitally important and Mr Strother reckons one of his best investments has been weigh cells on his cattle crush.

“You can see right away if the cattle are performing to target and the feeding regime can be adjusted if necessary to get them back on track,” he says.

Bulls and heifers are finished on Harbro’s Super Beef Finisher Blend and an example of the high performance being achieved is a batch of 14 month-old Limousin cross bulls slaughtered earlier in the summer to average 340kg deadweight and return an average price per head – after all deductions – of £700.

The heaviest bull weighed 394.4kg and graded E2 to yield the top price of £946.56 at 240p/kg while the youngest one – a three-quarter Limousin - produced a 370.4kg carcase at under 12 months of age, graded U+2 and returned a price of £926 at 250p/kg.

These two carcases, along with two others from the same batch, were selected for a special export order to Greece.

“The cattle performed exceptionally well and we were delighted with the outcome,” says Mr Strother.

With a total feed cost of £258 from weaning to slaughter, including a charge of £25 for straw but excluding bedding and labour, the cost of feeding from birth to slaughter worked out at only 66p/day and left a margin of £1.24/kg over feed costs.

“Fixed costs in beef production are scary so it’s important to finish cattle over as short a period as possible,” said Mr Strother. “The profit was the subsidy before but that is no longer the case. You’ve got to become as efficient as possible to ensure profitability.”

Costings looking at the impact of recent high cereal prices on beef cattle show that rapid finishing of cattle still provides the best returns to beef finishers, says, Harbro technical director Willie Thomson.

Costings produced by Harbro demonstrate that increasing feeding rate results in reduced cost per kilo gains as well as a reduction in fixed cost/kg gain.

“The difference between storing an animal at 0.75kg/day and rapid finishing at 1.5kg can be as high as 90p/kg deadweight gain,” claims Mr Thomson.

“Even in today’s high priced environment, keeping animals longer than necessary prior to slaughter simply increases overall costs”.

Mr Strother previously finished bought-in stores but the high cost of stores has persuaded him to introduce a suckler herd again.

The herd now numbers 70 cows and is continuing to expand. Replacement heifers are either purchased from a single source – a neighbouring farm – or bred on the farm to maintain high-health status and high EBV bulls are selected on their performance records.

Cows are wintered on haylage and mineralised feed blocks and are expected to “live off their backs” on moorland over the summer. Calves are creep fed to avoid a check at weaning and a better finished weight.

Hoppers for the finishing cattle are refilled twice a week, and straw fed in a feed ring, to make feeding a one-man operation.

“We negotiate a contract price for beef finisher blend in the autumn so we know exactly what our feed costs will be through the winter,” says Mr Strother.

The farm also runs a flock of 600 Texel and Suffolk cross ewes which are fed on Harbro Clover Premium Ewe, with all lambs finished on the farm from June to October.

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