18 September 1998

Too many at too low weight

Heifer finishing should be

reconsidered on farm.

Simon Wragg reports

HOLDING heifers on tight feeding regimes in early life encourages growth without the penalty of laying down too much flesh, but many are finished at lower weights and poorer grades unnecessarily.

Robert Forster, National Beef Association chief executive, says many heifers are finished at 280kg, but have potential to finish at 300 to 320kg deadweight, the ideal specification for multiple retailers. Also, too many heifers are over-fat, classified R4H or worse, when target classification is R4L.

"Heifers are being rushed through instead of being held on rations allowing them to grow bigger frames early on without putting on too much flesh," says Mr Forster.

Producers may have pushed heifers through to avoid the two broad teeth ruling for OTMS, but this ends with the introduction of passports. To take heifers to heavier weights without compromising carcass grade, it is important to realise when the growth period is coming to an end and when to move heifers on to an high specification diet, says Mr Forster.

He says too many producers are attracted by high prices paid by independent butchers for good quality medium weight animals when retailers – who sell most fresh beef – demand minimum carcass weights of 260kg deadweight at R4L grade.

The financial consequences of finishing heifer to poor grades are highlighted in MLC national deadweight returns. Figures published on Sept 11 show well shaped heifer R4L carcasses at 164.2p/kg compared with R4H heifers at 159.2p/kg deadweight, a difference of 5p/kg. Carcasses grading 0+4L are 157.3p/kg compared with O+4H carcasses at 153.4p/kg deadweight. Acknowledging potential difficulties in taking heifers to heavier weights without jeopardising carcass grades, independent beef consultant David Allen says differences between growth potential of heifers compared with steers and bulls means adopting alternative feeding regimes.

Heifers mature earlier than steers and bulls and have lower daily liveweight gains, lower slaughter weights at a given age (see graph), and lower weights at a given fat class, says Dr Allen.

"Native breeds such as Angus and Hereford, which mature earlier than Continental breeds and will finish to lower weights, are better suited to finishing off grass. Continental types benefit from supplementary feeding," he says.

Typically, heifer daily liveweight gains wont exceed 0.8kg to 0.9kg/head throughout the finishing period. "Do not expect to see the liveweight gains of 1kg or more associated with steers."

Mr Forster adds: "The MLC has recently said that good heifers carry more profit potential that steers which arent subsidised through BSP. The heifer price isnt distorted by unclaimed subsidy and management is more flexible because heifers are not held up by retention periods."

FINISHING HEIFERS

&#8226 Tighter early feed.

&#8226 Build bigger frames.

&#8226 Finish without fat.