21 March 1997

Finish fast and early

Finishing cattle faster, and at lighter weights, holds the key to future beef profitability. Emma Penny reports

THERE is unlikely to be much profit in beef within the next year, which means efficient finishing will be more vital than ever.

So warns Peter Cook, head of the Scottish Agricultural Colleges rural business unit. "The concern is that there is unlikely to be any compensation for BSE in the coming year. And that is coupled with strengthening Sterling, which makes importing beef attractive."

According to Mr Cook, imported beef is likely to fill any potential shortfalls in supply, meaning price is unlikely to be driven up, as many producers had hoped.

"There is a surplus of beef on the Continent, and with sterling so strong, importing beef becomes a much more attractive option. If the scenario is right then we are in for a tough time, but it is a difficult market to forecast."

The risk of poor profitability means producers should take a serious look at their system and that need is compounded by changing customer specifications, he warns.

"There is a move away from heavy cattle which went to traditional butchers and export outlets. Of course some butchers and other outlets will still want heavier carcasses, but there are fewer outlets."

In the past, traditional finishers would have aimed for a liveweight finished animal of 650-700kg. Today, the target should be a maximum of 600kg liveweight, says Mr Cook.

Besides the fear that cattle at those heavier weights will be approaching 30 months, the cost of liveweight gain increases as cattle become heavier.

A steer finished at 600kg at 17 months of age uses 44% of total feed intake for maintenance, at a cost of 51p/kg liveweight gain, while a 34-month-old steer finished at the same weight will use 73% of feed for maintenance, at a cost of 87p/kg liveweight gain (see table).

"Maintenance – the feed required to keep cattle at their current weight and condition – is a rising cost as animals become older. The most efficient system is to finish animals faster and earlier to ensure a lower cost/kg liveweight gain."

That means a big change in finishing systems for some producers, he warns. "Many producers rely on a traditional barley and silage ration for bigger cattle but that is not a cheap option; it costs 115p/kg liveweight gain, compared with the current beef price of 105p/kg."

Finish cattle faster and earlier for maximum efficiency, advises Peter Cook.


&#8226 Finish faster, at lighter weights

&#8226 Ensure system is cost-effective

&#8226 Efficient use of grass vital

&#8226 Consider finishing cattle before second BSP.

Table 1: Cost of maintenance

Age atABC








A % total feed used for maintenance

B Feed cost (p/kg lwg)

C Grazing periods