Focus on growth, not cutting costs

Aiming for high weaning weights and finishing both heifers and bulls by 12 months old is allowing a Derbyshire hill unit to achieve a daily carcass gain of 0.94kg at a cost of 172.6p/kg deadweight.

The beef sector’s wish for a beef price of 250p/kg deadweight would remain a pipe dream, Simon Frost told this week’s British Cattle Breeders Club conference Health, Wealth and Happiness, in Shropshire. Instead producers needed to focus on growth, not cutting costs, to achieve a viable future, he added.

“That’s achieved by the golden triangle – management, genetics and nutrition,” he said.

The business’ suckler herd of 101 Continental cross cows and 22 in-calf replacements at Hopping Farm, Youlgrave, Derbys, were put to a Charolais bull with a high Estimated Breeding Value for 400-day weight and picked for ease of calving.

“Ease of calving means shorter gestation, fewer problems and, hence, more profit.

Our suckler cows produce a lot of milk and we aim for high weaning weights at seven months old and then exploit young cattle’s better feed conversion efficiency,” he said.

Using industry figures, Mr Frost said calves between 8 and 11 months old had a feed conversion ratio of 5:1, but this fell to 8:1 at 14 months plus.

Cost per kilo of daily carcass gain (based on a concentrate cost of 11.5p/kg) ranged from 57.5p/kg to 92p/kg, respectively.

To ease the transition at weaning, bulls were introduced to a 16% CP 11.5ME creep for six weeks with the aim of being fully ad-lib in the final two weeks.

“This avoids any check in growth on housing in late October.

They stay on this ration and silage is replaced after one month by straw,” he said.

Heifers were treated differently, with no pre-weaning concentrate to avoid laying down fat.

At housing they were introduced to the same creep and big bale grass silage and soon make the transition.

Charolais bulls achieved an average slaughter weight of 574kg and killed out at 60% at 341 days old.

Daily carcass gain was 0.93kg (versus a typical industry average of just 0.70kg) resulting in a DCG value of 172.6p/kg and achieved a sale value of 184p/kg, he said.

“The industry is awash with advice to beef producers on how to achieve a sustainable and profitable enterprise by driving out costs, when in fact they should be turning the issue on its head and seeking to improve their technical and management efficiency,” he warned.