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
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
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
“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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