2 April 1999

Suckler kill timing lifts beef output

SLAUGHTERING suckler cows after weaning their third calf maximises output of saleable beef from a closed herd.

The finding came from researchers in Northern Ireland who were keen to find out how to lift output from lowland beef systems.

Desmond Patterson from Hillsborough, Co Down, said: "Suckler herds tend to have a low level of output. Producers keep the cow until it has had about 10 calves and its cull value is low, and just sell the calf. We wanted to know whether the cow could become a beef producing animal in its own right. We looked at growth and development of the cows carcass with parity, and at what was the best age to slaughter her to maximise saleable meat yields while retaining meat eating quality."

A group of three Blonde dAquitaine AI sires was used on three-quarter Charolais females over parities one, three and five and average lactation length at pasture was 163 days.

Animals for medium level of finish – fat class 3 – were finished at point of service as maiden heifers or at weaning for parities one, three and five. High finish animals – fat class 4L – had an additional finishing period on a grass silage/concentrate diet.

After three calves, carcass weight reached 99% of the maximum, and output of saleable beef 97% of maximum. "There was some increase in toughness by the third parity but not enough to be noticeable," said Dr Patterson.

"Once the 30-month slaughter scheme is lifted, slaughtering cows at their third parity will allow producers to run a self-replacing closed suckler herd while securing 97% of the potential maximum output of saleable beef from the cows."