BALANCING COSTS of weight gain with efficient diets will be the way forward for profitable beef production post-CAP reform, says nutrition consultant Bruce Woodacre.

Flexible, low-cost beef enterprises will be key to a profitable future, reckons Mr Woodacre, who will be giving delegates at January’s British Cattle Conference some ideas on minimising cost and maximising performance efficiency.

The trend has been to maximise growth rates to get extra weight on the finished carcass. However, those last few tenths of a kg often cost more than is necessary, he reckons. “Determining the economic optimum is, therefore, essential.”

But it’s not just about knowing your feed costs, he adds. “Knowing exact total costs of gain including labour, fixed costs, overheads and vet and medicine will help producers model their system against optimum economic figures.”

As well as balancing costs, the diet itself must be balanced to ensure economic efficiency is met throughout, he advises. As the energy density of the diet increases, dry matter intake also increases. “The overall diet digestibility increases, then intake levels and drops, normally at point of optimum growth rate.

“It is at this point that sub-clinical and clinical acidosis can occur, reducing optimum rumen function.” Pushing for that maximum growth rate will, therefore, not always guarantee optimum economic growth rate and performance, he warns.

This fact has been highlighted with recent work carried out by Mr Woodacre in Turkey. The trial compared high-energy density-fed – 12.8 MJ/ME a day – barley bulls and low-energy – 11.8 MJ/ME a day – co-product-based diets, showed similar growth rates. “The animals on the by-product-based diet simply achieved their daily energy intake by eating more,” he says. “As cattle ate more, food conversion ratios decreased. But with its cheaper ingredients, such as tomato and potato waste, the low-energy density diet generated more net profit.”

With UK cereal prices fluctuating like they have been, he advises considering flexible finishing options to help keep costs down, while maintaining efficient performance.

For details, contact Lesley Lewin (01409 241579; fax same).