3 May 1996

Sell lighter, finish faster, is specialists solution

By Jessica Buss

SELL animals at lighter weights and finish them faster to cut production cost a kg.

That was the key message to beef producers from Scottish Agricultural College beef specialist Dr Basil Lowman, speaking at the first FARMERS WEEKLY Coping with BSE conference in Aberdeen. He said: "If price a kg is going to be low the cost of producing that kg must be lower still.

"When you want to slaughter cattle at 4L it used to pay to get them to the highest 4L weight possible. But animals stay in a fat class for six weeks and, although it means selling some as class 3s, cattle must be slaughtered as soon as they are suitable for the market."

His advice was to finish stock more intensively. "All animals work slower the bigger they get," he said.

"Larger animals take more feed to gain a kg of liveweight, and so their feed conversion ratio becomes less efficient," he added.

He advised reducing costs of growing animals by maximising use of grazed grass. Start by stocking heavily in spring, he said.

"Many producers turn out half finished cattle. Ensuring they reach slaughter weight in their second winter should not be a problem."

Even breeds claiming to be late maturing reach 400-day weights that show they have the potential to finish in their second winter. Also carrying less animals in summer will leave more grass for grazing and silage. Its a technique that should be done to reduce costs regardless of beef prices, said Dr Lowman.

He advised beef finishers to buy fewer, lighter animals. These would be most efficient. Rearing costs can be reduced from 80 to 70p/kg when silage fed, and 55p/kg on grazed grass.

These systems would have lower marketing costs, less risk in buying and selling, and release buildings for other uses.

But according to Dr Lowman bulls are not the elite beef animals. All sexes could be finished intensively.

Bulls grew faster due to high levels of the growth hormone testosterone and finished at heavier weights than heifers.

But bulls maintenance requirements were higher and maintenance was a big cost in finishing cattle. In a recent SAC study heifers proved to be more profitable beef animals on a barley beef system, he said.

Cattle must be slaughtered at lighter weights to reduce the cost of production, says Basil Lowman