16 January 1998

Targets must be hit as beef gloom stays…

By Emma Penny

PROSPECTS of low beef prices throughout this year and next mean that cattle must achieve targets to maintain efficiency.

Subsidy claims and finishing dates must also be managed carefully.

Latest MLC forecasts are that prime cattle prices are unlikely to rise much above 100p/kg liveweight in 1998 and 1999.

But at the launch of its Beef Management 98 document, the MLC says margins can be made. Beef specialist David Allen reckons realising these will depend on better management, starting with a mid-winter performance review.

He suggests assessing performance by weighing all cattle – stores, finishers and suckler cows – and considering condition score.

"Ensure cattle are meeting daily liveweight gain targets; if not, adjust rations accordingly so that they achieve required sale weight and finish. Suckler cows in good condition could be allowed to lose some weight over winter, aiming for a score of 2 at turnout, thus reducing feed costs."

Producers should plan for turn-out, aiming to make better use of grass. But he warns that producers considering changing their finishing systems, particularly those swapping from finishing out of housing to off grass, look at the pitfalls.

"Do not make arbitrary changes without considering the knock-on effects. If you decide to finish cattle off grass will you have enough grazing and silage land? Will slaughter at an older age risk taking cattle beyond the buyers weight limit or into OTMS?"

Better management would reduce the leakage of 1000 prime cattle a week into the OTMS scheme, says MLC economist Duncan Sinclair. Besides better office management to guard against cattle becoming too old before slaughter, he urges producers to regularly check heifer dentition.

"Dentition is the only way of ageing heifers born before passports were introduced. Some showing signs of second incisor eruption may be younger than 30 months, but must enter the OTMS."

Producers claiming BSP for steers and bulls should ensure that the second payment is claimed as soon as possible, says Dr Allen.

"Where claims are made at the earliest date – 21 months – the two-month retention period takes them up to 23 months old. Couple poor subsidy claim management with slower finishing and these cattle could easily fall into the OTMS trap, reducing their value substantially," he warns.

&#8226 Beef Management 98 is availablefrom the MLC (01908-844172).

BEEF PROSPECTS

&#8226 Set and review targets.

&#8226 Beware of changing systems.

&#8226 Beware OTMS trap.