Continental cross heifers should be finished at younger ages then at present to maximise returns according to EBLEX.
A survey of more than 150,000 carcass records and passports for animals slaughtered in England in 2004 found that nearly 75% of continental cross heifers were being slaughtered after 22 months old, explains MLC beef scientist Mary Browne.
“This is despite there being little or no increase in carcass weight over this age to pay for additional feeding, labour and housing costs. Also many of these heifers were slaughtered at less than the 270kg minimum carcass weight required by much of the modern meat trade.”
Price penalties can be up to 20p/kg for under-weight carcasses, so clearly there is much to gain from finishing heifers carefully to ensure they meet minimum weights, she adds.
“However, finishers should take particular care in trying to increase carcass weights, as it is easy to increase the number of overfat carcasses. Up to 22% of the heifer carcasses in the study were fatter than the preferred 3-4L grades,” warns Dr Browne.
Slow growth rates appear to be to blame for many of these failings, with many failing to grow fast enough to reach finished condition at an early enough age, if at all. Slow growth rates can also be a cause of poor conformation.
“Heifers should grow at a rate which enables them to gain at least 0.7kg/day over their lifetime and be marketed in fat class 3-4L at carcass weights of 270kg or more at 18-24 months old,” she advises.
To achieve these aims farmer should handle animals regularly to assess fat levels, house animals as soon as grazing quality deteriorates and monitor growth rates through regular weighing. “Choosing stock form sires with high EBVs for growth and conformation can also help.”