12 December 1997

Dont panic and be short-termist beef men told

By Jonathan Riley

DO not make changes to beef systems without making a thorough management review and cost analysis first.

That is the message from UK beef consultants to producers struggling to cope with cattle prices at a 16-year low.

Despite the severe pressure on prices, independent beef consultant David Allen suggests that in the short term, producers should still aim to hit performance targets for animals close to finishing.

"A management change, such as switching from a finishing ration to a store ration, may well incur more costs than it saves."

He warns that even when simply delaying a sale for a short period, it is vital to appraise the cost of a change carefully.

"For example, the extra daily feed costs, labour, bedding and the possible effect on carcass quality must be taken into account if holding animals back either to add weight or target a stronger market.

"Only cattle with top quality conformation can be allowed to go up to fat class 4H and then only after ensuring that the outlet will take them," cautions Dr Allen.

He says returns from Holstein-type beef animals which could grade O- could be wiped out by any penalties for exceeding fat class.

"Regular weighing and condition monitoring should, therefore, be stepped up, particularly with the dairy bred animals," he adds.

Signets David Evans says that feeding regimes may provide one area where costs could be trimmed without disrupting performance.

"Silage stocks are still plentiful on many units and with accurate analysis and careful ration formulation aimed at sustaining target growth rates concentrate levels could be reduced," says Mr Evans.

But he advises producers to check market specifications required because moving to a higher silage based ration will cause fat to yellow, which may be unacceptable for some outlets.

Longer term, he suggests home milling-and-mixing could help cut £20/t from feed bills.

"Further savings could be achieved by buying younger calves, currently £20 a head cheaper than reared calves, providing resources are available to rear calves efficiently," he says.

ADAS beef consultant Neil Pickard says that for longer-term changes the first step is to calculate a break-even cost with a notional end price that can be compared with a calf price.

"Variable costs will probably account for 40p-80p/kg but the fixed costs will push this figure over 90p/kg and must be fully accounted," says Dr Pickard.

"Silage making costs must, therefore, be reviewed carefully. Under some conservation regimes such as big bale silage it may now be cheaper to formulate a barley or by-product based ration than to stand the cost of silage making, feeding and storing," he says.

&#8226 For latest beef production advice from the regions, turn to p38.

SHORT-TERM STRATEGIES

&#8226 Aim to hit performance targets.

&#8226 Avoid sudden management changes.

&#8226 Beware penalties for exceeding fat class.