With beef producers facing another winter of high feed costs, farmers should pregnancy diagnose (PD) all cows to identify those that are empty and decide whether to sell them immediately or feed them to gain extra condition, according to EBLEX advice.
EBLEX calculations show that running cows empty represents a cost to the enterprise of £3.35 per cow per day in feed and lost income from calf growth. It is therefore not cost-effective to keep cows on the farm any longer than necessary and the additional cost of feeding them to gain condition should be considered against the potential return.
In general cull cow prices follow a seasonal pattern which is related to availability. Having reached new record highs in the summer, some of the seasonality has returned in recent months with prices easing considerably since June, although there has been some resurgence in the run up to Christmas as demand improved. However with a fundamentally tight supply of cattle both in the UK and further afield, prices should remain around these record levels in the short term; although seasonal variations are still likely to be in effect.
While the returns from cull cow finishing will always depend on market conditions, there are a number of other questions producers should be asking before making the decision about whether the returns will justify the additional cost:
- Do the price differentials between poor and good cull cows make it worth feeding them to put on extra condition?
- Should the cows be finished on the current farm or on a specialist finishing unit?
- Are the cows fit to sell as finished immediately, suitable for a finishing regime or too ill/poor to be worth finishing?
- Should the cows be finished during late lactation or after the end of lactation?
- What feed resources are available for finishing - silage or concentrates?
- What are the finishing performance targets in terms of liveweight gain, condition score gain and carcase characteristics?
- When are the cows best sold to avoid peaks of supply?
- What is the best available market outlet?
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