Beef and sheep producers are being urged to take action now to minimise feed cost risks predicted this coming winter.

EBLEX is warning that with November 2011 futures prices for feed wheat, feed barley and oilseed rape currently standing about £170/t, £155/t and £350/t respectively, an action plan is essential to minimise future feed costs.

And having an early action plan offers the widest possible range of cost reduction opportunities, according to EBLEX senior beef scientist, Mary Vickers. She suggests producers take actions such as improving grass and silage use through greater use of home-grown feeds to more advantageous early feed purchasing.

Other opportunities Dr Vickers suggests 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 such as 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

• 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

• Improving health status of stock to maximise feed efficiency.

However, Dr Vickers insists feed options should always be compared on the basis of cost for every unit of energy or crude protein to take account of what can be widely different nutritional values.

As well as focusing the best-quality feeds on younger stock to exploit their naturally higher feed conversion efficiency, Dr Vickers suggests producers base their feed planning on cost for every kilogramme of gain rather than on a per day basis.

“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,” she says.