6 September 1996

Finish beef earlier or risk compensation loss


by Sue Rider

BEEF producers who have finished animals at over 30-months-old must review their production systems to ensure cattle can be slaughtered at under 30 months.

ADAS head of beef and sheep development Neil Pickard, co-author of a MAFF booklet Finishing cattle by 30 months, warns that cattle over 30-months-old will not be allowed into the food chain and all compensation could be phased out.

Cattle in late maturing production systems tend to be the big-framed Continental cross steers or traditional beef breeds on extensive farms. When grass growth and quality declines at the end of the summer, Continental cross steers in their second grazing season are often carried over as stores rather than being finished off grass.

Mr Pickard suggests that feeding a compound supplement from August would ensure more cattle can be finished at grass during this period. He says that offering a high energy, 14% crude protein supplement or home-mix comprising 90% barley and 10% soya at 2-4kg/head/day, depending on the animal, would ensure many animals finished much earlier.

Mr Pickard advises having silage analysed to ensure the right quality of supplement is fed for target weight and date of finish. Feed needs can be underestimated, and cattle fail to reach finished condition by the end of the winter.

"Animals carrying sufficient condition to be finished by early spring should, if possible, be given extra feed so that they can be sent for slaughter before being turned back out to grass," he says.

If these animals are not finished over their second winter, growth rates at grass tend to be poor, which may mean that they are not ready for slaughter until the next winter.

Mr Pickard recognises that traditional beef breeds on extensive units tend to be grown slowly throughout their lives. Calves are often below 200kg at weaning and suffer a major check when taken from the cow. Supplementary feeding at this stage can reduce the check and lift turnout weights by at least 50kg/head the next spring.

"Traditional beef breeds are capable of faster growth rates and earlier finishing than has been practised in the past."

Mr Pickard says that increasing growth rates can improve the profitability of the enterprise by reducing overall feed costs per kg liveweight gain.

*Copies of booklet available free from MAFF Publications, London SE99 7TP or tel 0645-556000 quoting ref no PB2758.n


&#8226 Improved feed conversion efficiency.

&#8226 Reduced requirement for land/buildings.

&#8226 Better cash flow and potentially better return on capital.

Supplementary feeding at weaning can reduce checks in growth and lift turnout weights by at least 50kg/head the next spring.