12 December 1997

Go for quality not short-term fixes, says meat trade

Despite pressure on prices,

beef consultants from

around the regions told FW

livestock reporters that

holding onto cattle was not

an option. Stick to target

selling weights and, in the

longer term, focus on quality

and production efficiency

SHORT-TERM advice for beleaguered beef finishers was in short supply at the Welsh Winter Fair.

But the meat trade had a clear message for farmers tempted to use plentiful silage and cheap cereals to delay marketing until returns improve. It was to beware the 30-month rule, and the penalties imposed on over-fat and heavy animals. Cattle should, butchers insisted, be marketed at their optimum level of finish.

They, and industry consultants, all agreed that recovery could be some way off, and that medium and long-term strategy must concentrate on quality, and production efficiency. Auctioneer Terry Court, who sold the supreme cattle champion for a staggering £8.20/kg liveweight, but is depressed by current market prices, said there had been a premium on best quality store and finished cattle throughout the crisis.

Signets David Evans, was one of many industry advisers urging suckler herd operators to exploit high genetic merit cattle, make more efficient use of grazed and conserved home-grown fodders, and to improve marketing.

"Average market returns are unlikely to rise much for some time," he admitted.

"Survival depends on trimming fixed and variable costs, producing premium earning superior stock, and marketing them well. The variation between results from different farms provides much scope for improvement on some."

Using a sire that improved the growth rate of calves by 0.1kg a day could increase the income from 60 sucklers by £1700 a year. Bulls with good muscling scores would sire better conformation suckled calves, and a premium of 5p/kg would lift returns from 60 cows by over £850 a year.

There was general agreement among advisers at the fair that the crisis was a watershed for the industry, which should encourage all involved to take a long, hard look at their systems to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Aim to finish cattle faster, not slower – and dont delay selling cattle as a better price may not cover additional costs incurred.

BEEFPRODUCTION

&#8226 Beware holding onto cattle; meet targets.

&#8226 Co-operate for improved marketing clout.

&#8226 Explore scope for reducing feed costs.

&#8226 Maximise use of grazed grass not silage.

&#8226 Exploit high genetic merit cattle.

&#8226 Review performance of beef enterprise.