17 July 1998

Finish beef while price is buoyant

BEEF prices are likely to remain buoyant until later this summer, and producers are urged to finish cattle during that period to ensure better financial returns.

MLC economist Duncan Sinclair says reduced availability of beef – fewer cattle coming on to the market in the UK, and reduced availability in Ireland because the deseasonalisation payment is not currently applied – means prices are stronger. "The Irish deseasonalisation payment starts again in the autumn, so increasing marketings and putting pressure on prices."

But independent beef consultant David Allen says producers must be wary of supplementing cattle at grass in the hope of catching a few extra pence a kg. "Producers must be sure this slight rise in beef prices is sustainable before feeding concentrates."

Instead, priority must go to maximising use of grazing despite a gradual fall in quality and inclement weather suppressing intakes, says Dr Allen. "Reduce stocking rates gradually from 2t/ha to 1.5t/ha of liveweight to compensate."

Neil Pickard, ADAS head of beef and sheep, urges producers to prioritise grazing. "Those cattle finishing before winter should be on the best grazing, possibly silage aftermaths, while stores can afford to stand still on a maintenance grazing ration supplemented with straw."

More attention should be paid to managing swards to improve grass quality, says Hereford-based Signet consultant Brian Taylor. "Top pastures going to seed and areas where cattle wont graze, particularly around dung patches."

But all consultants agree that feeding up to 2kg cereals or maize gluten a head a day for cattle in the last fortnight of finishing will help ensure a swift move off farm.

"But this cannot be justified for heifers which finish earlier and at lower weights naturally," cautions Dr Allen. &#42