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Stackyard News Mar 2011

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Plan Ahead to Manage Future Feed Cost Risks

With concentrate prices looking set to remain uncomfortably high throughout the year, beef and sheep producers should plan ahead as early as possible this spring and summer to manage their feed cost risks next winter, advises EBLEX – the industry body for English beef and lamb levy payers.

Reducing the housing period by growing winter forage crops like kale, stubble turnips and fodder beet

winter forage crop

November 2011 futures prices for feed wheat, feed barley and oilseed rape currently stand at around £170/tonne, £155/tonne and £350/tonne respectively. While markets are particularly volatile, this suggests little, if any, let-up in the feed price pressures producers have had to endure over the past winter.

Under these circumstances, well-planned action is essential to minimise future winter feeding costs. All the more so since early action offers the widest possible range of cost-reduction opportunities – from improved grass and silage utilisation through greater use of other home-grown feeds to more advantageous early feed purchasing.

Particular opportunities in these respects include:

  • Maximising the performance of stock at grass to reduce the weight gain required after housing;
  • Reducing the housing period by growing winter forage crops like kale, stubble turnips and fodder beet;
  • Improving grass silage quality to minimise supplementary feeding requirements;
  • Investigating maize silage or whole crop cereal growing to boost winter forage quality and supplies;
  • Incorporating urea into diets as a particularly economic source of crude protein;
  • Making greater use of bakery co-products, stock feed vegetables and other sources of starch in finishing diets;
  • Forward-buying a greater proportion of winter feeds earlier in the year; and,
  • Improving the health status of stock through timely worming and vaccination to maximise their feed efficiency.

EBLEX insists that feed options should always be compared on the basis of cost per unit of energy or crude protein to take account of what can be widely differing nutritional values.

As well as focusing the best quality feeds on younger stock to exploit their naturally higher feed conversion efficiencies, it suggests producers base their feed planning on the cost per kilogramme of gain rather than per day. This means feeding high energy density diets to finishing animals to minimise the finishing period and thus total feeding as well as labour, bedding and other associated costs.

Further practical advice on making the most of winter forage and concentrate feeding can be obtained free of charge by levy payers through a range of EBLEX Better Returns literature available at

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