21 March 1997

Challenge to bring heifers up to weight

MORE accurate management will be needed to ensure the increasing proportion of finishing heifers meet market standards.

As bull calves continue to fall into the calf processing scheme the industry faces a predominately heifer dominated market in the future, says MLC beef strategy manager Chris Brown.

According to Dr Brown, as many as 60% of the UKs finished cattle will be heifers. And with only 37% of current heifer carcasses achieving the target weight range – never mind conformation and fat class – he urges producers to react to the challenges facing the industry.

Less than half the beef produced throughout the country is achieving target specifications (see table). These are E, U, R/4L or heavier, within a 270kg to 330kg carcass weight range.

"The reason these figures look so dreary and dismal is that we are now having to concentrate on a home market, whereas before lightweight heifers had a market in Southern Europe," explains Dr Brown.

Recent data from MLC reveals light carcasses – below 270kg deadweight – show poor conformation, with about 40% of these grading below specified targets. And 40% of heavier carcasses, weighing over 330kg, are prone to fatness when they reach 380kg deadweight.

"Finishing systems which ensure cattle meet market requirements are vital," warns Dr Brown. "Excessive weight leads to insufficient conformation and finish, and early maturing breeds finished at heavy weights are over fat."

As a rule of thumb he suggests that entire males are most suitable for cereal beef production. Some steers and heifers can be finished this way, but care must be taken to ensure they do not become over fat.

And although extensive systems may allow for a wider range of breed type to be used, again there is a danger of over fatness so animals must be marketed at the required specification.

"The industry is facing a fair challenge," he says. "Look at what you are doing and remember you can only work with the material you start with. Make sure you start with animals with high estimated breeding values as these will increase your chances of reaching specified marketing targets at finishing."n

Rebecca Austin

The beef industry is facing a fair challenge, warns the MLC beef strategy manager Dr Chris Brown.


BEEF PREDICTION


&#8226 More heifer finishing.

&#8226 Need to meet home market spec.

&#8226 Choose appropriate system.


1995 average carcass weights

SteersHeifersYoung bullsAll clean

330kg269kg313kg306kg


Beef carcasses achieving target specification

South west 31.4%

Midlands32.9%

North of England43.3%

Scotland48.4%