19 October 2001

Trial puts beef ration to test

By Richard Allison

FEEDING processed urea-treated whole-crop wheat, instead of a barley-based concentrate, to finish beef cattle cuts feed costs and improves gross margin by £17 a head.

Feed accounts for 70-80% of beef finishing costs, so reducing the cost of a ration will improve margins, says Simon Marsh, senior lecturer at Harper Adams University College, Shropshire.

A college trial compared animal and financial performance of beef cattle fed processed urea-treated whole-crop wheat (Alkalage) with cattle fed cereals. "It costs about £55/t dry matter to produce Alkalage, much less than buying cereals at £95/t dry matter."

A group of 20 Bazadaise x Hereford/Friesian cross beef cattle were intensively finished over a six-month period. "Liveweight gains were a little low at 1.1-1.2kg a day for both treatment groups, because steers and Hereford/Friesian crosses were used," says Mr Marsh.

Gross margin was £17 a head higher at £121 a head for Alkalage-fed stock, putting the beef finishing enterprise just in the black. This assumes a fixed cost of £10 a head a month and excludes arable aid payments. At the college, this area is registered as forage to claim beef special premium, he says.

Where beef producers also have enough area to claim arable aid without losing beef premiums, the production cost of Alkalage falls to about £38/t dry matter.

For beef cattle fed cereals to achieve similar feed costs/kg liveweight gain, the cost of the cereal concentrate, which contains 85% rolled barley, would need to fall to £75/t, says Mr Marsh.

With cheap feeds, it pays to take cattle to heavier weights to meet market specifications, he says. "Too many beef producers are focusing on beef premium payments, leaving many animals unfinished. Both premiums and high growth rates are needed for maximum profitability.

Wheat for Alkalage was cut at a stubble height of 37cm (15in) to push starch levels up to 42% and a forage mill was used to ensure maximum grain starch availability.

"Unfortuately, supplies of Alkalage ran out during the trial and foot-and-mouth restrictions meant all cattle had to be finished on cereals for the last 60 days of the six-month finishing period."

Gross margins were £17 a head higher for cattle fed Alkalage, putting the beef finishing enterprise in the black, says Simon Marsh.

Performance results

Alkalage Cereals

Start weight (kg) 333 332

Slaughter 530 535

weight (kg)

Daily gain 1.13 1.16

Killing out % 54 55

Daily feed cost 61 77

(p/head)

Feed cost/kg gain 54 66

Gross margins 121 104

(£ a head)