24 May 1996

Finishearlier and go in for calves or stores – consultant

By Jessica Buss

BEEF producers should cut their losses on finishing cattle and reinvest the money in calves or stores while prices for these stock are low.

South-west-based Signet consultant John Bennett says that in most cases it will pay to speed up the growth and throughput of animals to finish at lighter weights.

These smaller animals are selling better, 400kg lw steers have been making 10p/kg lw more than heavier animals in recent weeks.

But when finishing lighter animals, it will pay to sell them as soon as they hit the required fat class, says Mr Bennett.

"If there is a market for stock at a lower fat class of two or three sell them," he advises. At fat classes of 4L and 4H growth rates are slow and feed conversion less efficient.

On intensive barley beef systems it takes five to six weeks to move through a fat class from when they first become 4L until they move to 4H.

"Animals should be sold 6-8 weeks earlier than normal at the beginning of a fat class," says Signet business consultant Jim Stark, who cautions that stock must eat four times the energy to put on a kilo of fat compared with a kilo of lean. "When a bull drops into fat class 4H the price is penalised by 5p/kg," he says.

Mr Bennett suggests another option to reduce losses is to sell animals on the store market. Although volatile, the removal of cattle over 30 months from the market is helping maintain store prices.

As for stock due to be finished indoors during June or July, these could be turned out now and marketed in six months at a heavier weight, says Mr Bennett. But because this option ties up the capital invested in stock for longer, maximum use must be made of pasture to reduce production costs a kg.

Tighten stocking rates and increase fertiliser use to make grass work harder, he says.

Elwyn Rees, ADAS livestock consultant, says some producers may be justified on a cost a kg basis to finish cattle at heavier weights. But to be economic, heavier animals must be produced cheaply.

And with no exports and a market now geared to lighter animals, producers must first ensure they have an outlet, says Dr Rees.

As for bulls, Signet consultant Geoff Fish suggests selling animals as soon as they are fit – the second subsidy claim could be a long way off.

"However, if you can still claim a first or second subsidy, worth £93 for each eligible bull this spring, keep them," says Mr Fish. "This £93 is a high p/kg rate equivalent."

&#8226 Finish at lighter weights.

&#8226 Turn out to grass and finish in six months.

&#8226 Consider selling on the store market.

&#8226 Claim any subsidy due soon.


Underserving is the biggest cost of lost production in pig herds (see p43). Oxon producer James King, who runs 200 sows and 90 gilts on 22ha (55 acres) of rented land near Bicester keeps dynamic groups of 30-35 sows and three boars. He believes the big bale tent housing used helps reduce aggression, allowing boars to get on with serving. The tents also provide shade to safeguard summer infertility.

Mr Kings herd averages 11.8 pigs born alive each litter.