26 December 1997

How hard-pressed beef men can counter blows

With beef prices at their

lowest yet, what can

producers do to minimise

losses? Emma Penny

asked producers attending

last weeks National Cattle

Association rally in London

INCREASED reliance on arable by-products and home-grown feeds, improved use of forage and careful management of condition score are just some of the strategies hard-pressed beef producers are considering in an attempt to minimise losses.

Brian Filby, Felbrigg, Norfolk who runs 230 commercial suckler and 60 pedigree Simmental cows, and finishes cattle for sale in one of his two butchers shops has stopped culling older cows out of the herd while the replacement rate remains the same so the herd is becoming larger.

"We are also using more arable by-products such as straw and sugar beet tops to help reduce feed costs."

Robert Robinson, beef chairman of the NCA who runs 900-1000 suckler cows in Northumberland says he hasnt changed policies as a direct result of the crisis. "However, I am considering keeping and feeding some of our heifers next year as I fear there may not be buyers for them.

"We have also changed one herd to spring rather than autumn calving. This was planned before the crisis, but will hopefully reduce costs as we can use bulls twice, and can put good young cows which fail to hold to service in the autumn into the spring calving herd."

David Grainger, Wilingham, Cambs runs 50 pedigree black and red Limousins, and has moved towards using more home-produced feed. "We have a mixer wagon and are using arable by-products such as vegetable waste to reduce costs."

For Kim Dun, Nether Brotherstone, Lothian, secretary of the Scottish Beef Council, low suckled calf prices have led to a feeding dilemma. "We have had to hold onto suckled calves as the price is so poor, but we dont really have enough space to over-winter them, and the difficulty is keeping them looking good.

"We have no access to cheap by-products so are feeding silage, hay and creep. Cows are being fed a supplement with high vitamin and mineral content to help make the most of forage as we cant treat it to improve feed value."

William Cowx, who runs 70 commercial and 30 pedigree Limousins in Cumbria says he hasnt changed much on the farm, but has cut back generally.

"We are looking more closely at condition score, and feeding accordingly – the pedigree cows are not receiving any concentrate this year. We may also look at finishing cattle, rather than selling as suckled calves."

In Somerset, Brian Watson, who runs 1000 beef and dairy Montbeliardes, has chosen to maximise subsidy income. "We have cut the number of cattle we keep for finishing. We did keep 200-300 for finishing, but now keep only 90 to stay within subsidy claim limits. The remainder are sold through livestock markets."

One Scottish producer, Peter Henshall, from Lockerbie, runs just over 100 commercial sucklers and pedigree Limousin cows and has begun to sell stores and finish cattle rather than selling suckled calves.

"We are a hill farm so we cant run anything other than suckler cows and sheep, and I dont think there are any areas left that we can cut costs.

"We are now selling cattle as stores, and have kept some entire to finish. However, I dont think theres any potential to cut feed costs – reduced feeding will lower quality and reduce market potential."

COSTCUTTINGMEASURES

&#8226 Increased by-product use.

&#8226 Reliance on home-grown feed.

&#8226 Improved forage use.

As the National Cattle Association took its protest to Downing Street, FWsurveyed members on what they were doing to counteract lower beef prices.