With the opening of the Older Cattle Disposal Scheme now scheduled for 23 January, the over-30-month scheme will end, meaning all cull cows born after 1996 will have to be sold into the food chain.

After three weeks of cull cows being allowed back into the food chain, about 5500 cows have been marketed so far, says MLC’s Duncan Sinclair.

And although well finished suckler cull cows are already proving their worth, selling up to 1.20/kg deadweight, he says dairy producers will have to work hard to get any return on their cows.

“The sale of post-96 cows into the food chain shouldn’t be considered as a disposal scheme.

To receive a commercial value for cows, producers must dry them off properly and feed them through a finishing period.”

But even before the finishing period begins, he advises contacting the nearest abattoir to ensure they will take cows and discuss what specification they require.

Kite consultant Ben Watts reckons that although trade for cull cows into the food chain is still in its infancy, buyers seem to be looking for quality cattle of O+ standard, weighing 300kg deadweight.

“Dairy cows likely to attract interest from buyers will, therefore, be those that are fed well to gain condition before marketing.”

With that in mind, Mr Watts advises deciding on the finishing regime for each animal individually.

“With an extreme Holstein you may struggle to put condition on her economically, but a late lactation, low yielding animal may finish reasonably well.”

To keep costs as low as possible, he suggests feeding cows on forage and cheaper by-products rather than more expensive compounds.

“Intakes should be about 14-16.5kg dry matter a day with a weight gain of 0.7-1.0kg a day, any more than that and weight gain wouldn’t be economical.”

But he advises not holding on to culls for too long, when it puts housing pressure on the main herd.

And before selling, all ear-tags and brands should comply with BCMS passport information to avoid errors in the abattoir, as many are still happening, he adds.

All cattle should be beef assured, too, says Mr Sinclair.

“EBLEX has already highlighted a 6p/kg difference between assured and non-assured prime cattle.

If this is the same for cull cows, the cost of becoming an assured member can be recouped after selling only three cows.”

But although selling finished cull cows straight from the herd might pay in the long term, it won’t prove economical for a buyer to take them through to finishing, reckons Exeter-based dairy bull calf finisher Tom Samuel.

“I had intended sourcing cows to finish, but when you take haulage, straw, feed and abattoir deductions into consideration you need to get about 530 a cow to break even.

Unless the price suddenly picks up, I can’t see the figures stacking up.”

chrissie.lawrence@rbi.co.uk