CUTTING AS much complexity as possible from your production system is one of the best ways of improving both suckler and finisher enterprise performance, English beef producers have been advised by the English Beef and Lamb Executive.

As part of its country-wide initiative to help producers minimise their reliance on Single Farm Payments from 2005, EBLEX explains that, in addition to saving on the single biggest fixed cost in all beef businesses (labour), many moves to simplify rearing and finishing also bring significant improvements in technical efficiency.

With the latest EBLEX annual enterprise costings confirming labour as the second highest cost after feedstuffs for suckler and finisher businesses alike, reducing labour costs per kg liveweight produced has to be a clear priority for English producers.

And simpler systems invariably improve labour efficiency; especially so, if accompanied by increases in daily liveweight gains.

Faster finishing is a very effective way of simplifying enterprises by reducing the number of groups of cattle on a unit.

In all, reducing the finishing age of steers from 27 to 22 months can easily cut total production costs from £1.76/kg liveweight to just £1.41/kg – a saving of more than £200 for a 600 kg beast.

In the same way, growing replacement heifers quickly enough to be bulled at 15 months and calve at 2 years of age will cut replacement costs by £40-50/cow while eliminating the need for an extra 2-3 year heifer group.

Keeping calving periods short by restricting the period over which the bull is used is another useful way of cutting complexity.

Reducing the calving period from 15 to 12 weeks has been shown to add 10 kg to the average weaning weight of calves – worth £11/head. It also enables routine tasks like vaccination and de-horning to be carried out in fewer operations at the ideal age.

A suckler herd finishing its own progeny and calving at 3 years of age could well have nine separate groups of stock to manage at any one time – including cows, stock bulls, weaned calves, replacement heifers (2), and finishing steers and heifers (2 each).

Management complexity will, of course, be even greater with both autumn and spring calving and a broad spread of ages within groups.

With clear thinking and a bit of effort, this same unit can run just five groups – stock bulls, cows, replacements and finishers (2), making management very much simpler and less time-consuming as well as markedly reducing other fixed costs like buildings and pens.