Removal of the casualty cow slaughter scheme in January means the beef and dairy industry is losing more than £600,000 a week from extra stock going through the national fallen stock scheme.
Introduction of new EU hygiene rules only allows animals having had a genuine accident to enter the food chain.
MLC’s economics manager Duncan Sinclair says 2000 additional animals a week have been put through the fallen stock system in England alone.
“Previously, diseased, injured or otherwise unfit-to-travel culls would have earned compensation through the OTM scheme, these animal have since become worthless.
“Even at the least valuable grade 4 cull cow prices of about 50p/kg liveweight, every animal disposed of as fallen stock represents a direct farm loss of about £300, removing an important contributor towards net herd replacement costs,” he adds.
As well as a national farmgate loss of at least £600,000 a week – more than £30m each year – extra fallen stock numbers are removing about £32,000t of beef a year from the food chain, worth £96m at retail level, reckons Mr Sinclair.
And while he appreciates it would be impossible to salvage all animals lost to the food chain, there are many practical actions producers can take to minimise this waste of resources and money.
Even before the loss of the OTM scheme, Kite consultant Ben Watts advised producers to treat cows as soon as they go lame to prevent further losses.
“Within a week a lame dairy cow can lose a condition score, so it is vital losses are minimised by treating immediately.”
When it comes to finishing dairy cull cows, Mr Watts says one of the cheapest methods is offering the main herd an extra 5-10% feed and removing any waste for cull cows.
“This way the main herd are always maximising yield from having feed in front of them all the time and any waste is efficiently used.”
Stricter culling of less productive, older beef cows could also significantly improve margins for suckler herds, adds MLC’s Duncan Pullar.
“In a suckler herd with a 20% annual replacement rate and no maximum age, 10% of cows will be rearing their ninth or later calf and, in likelihood, making a loss.”
At this standard age profile, the average gross margin for the typical suckler herd works out at just less than £79 a head, including replacement costs.
“Culling all cows after their eighth calf would increase gross margins by more than 20% to nearly £95 a head on average, while culling after the sixth calf will boost it to £102 a head.”
But there will always be exceptions to the rule and older cows that continue to rear a calf every year can safely be retained without diluting herd profitability, as well as helping minimise replacement costs.
“However, as soon as they fail to hold service these animals should be culled,” he adds.