Efficient finishing essential to beef profits

High finished cattle prices shouldn’t take producers eyes of the ball when it comes to maximising profitability.

Prime cattle prices are on track to reach record levels this year, but paying too much for store cattle in the coming months and failing to secure feed stocks before the forecasted escalation in commodity prices will mean finishers fail to achieve the best returns from the beef boom.

And as prime cattle values began their sharp ascent at the start of the New Year, advisers were urging producers not to become complacent. They believe higher primestock values should be an even greater incentive to ensure cattle are finished as efficiently as possible and say producers must aim for weight gains of up to 2kg a day to make the most of the buoyant market.

Donald Brown, of Keenan Rumans, says beef producers are now in a position to make good margins on finished cattle. But the real top profits will be earned by those addressing feeding and management on the farm rather than simply relying on enhanced market prices.

“Getting flesh on the frame of cattle weighing 200kg as quickly and as efficiently as possible is essential if those animals are going to earn the highest margins. Animals at this weight with plenty of frame should be fast tracked this is their most efficient age for feed conversion, but it’s important to assess each animal individually and put them on the appropriate finishing regime.”

Weight gains of 1-1.2kg a head a day were unprofitable. “Producers must realise that 1kg a day won’t leave any margin. Gains of 1.4-2kg must be the target,” says Donald Brown, who has also contributed rationing guidelines for the EBLEX Better Returns programme.


Finishing cattle efficiently this winter means aiming for growth rates of about 2kg a day and avoiding taking cattle to heavy weights.

Producers should look closely at their finishing diets and aim for 30-60% dry matter, 12-15% crude protein and above 12.2 MJ/kg dry matter. Energy levels – particularly from starch – must be maintained, but levels of more than 13MJ of ME/kg of dry matter will reduce feed intakes.

With soya prices already up by £40/t, finishers are not only urged to start looking ahead to secure long-term feed for cattle, but must avoid taking animals to heavy weights.

“Avoid the temptation to push big-framed steers to 700kg. The market for them is limited. The cost of piling on the extra weight makes the animal less profitable with every day it is weighing more than 600kg. The aim must best to get cattle finished as fast as possible.”

Donald Brown reckons producers should be aiming for a maximum 100-day finishing period to achieve an average gain of at least 150kg. But even in the current positive market for beef cattle he advises store buyers to be “extremely selective”.

“Stores have been dear and will remain so. It’s no good paying 160-170p/kg for stores that will make 130-140p/kg when finished. Base the buying-in price on the same pence/kg as the selling rate.

“This market gives all producers a big chance to up their game and while you want to buy-in store cattle that will perform efficiently and profitably, they don’t have to be the most expensive. Plainer sorts can achieve huge weight gains when fed and managed correctly.”

Other practical tips to ensure optimum performance include ensuring all cattle are dosed for worms and fluke and that there are enough dry lying spaces for every individual animal in each yard.

Case Study Neil Fell, Aglionby, Carlisle.
Cumbria beef producer Neil Fell is “reasonably confident” about future beef profits but says rising feed costs will affect the way cattle are finished despite any improvement in market prices.
Although he grows a large proportion of his feed requirements for the 400 head finished each year at Wheelbarow Hall, Aglionby, Carlisle, he still prefers to make the most of grass with some cattle spending two summers grazing before being finished.
“I can see why we are all being told to finish cattle faster and achieve a higher turnover, but it all depends on the price of feed. On our farm we can grow most of our own feed for the beef diet mix, but when wheat is costing £160/t it make a lot of finishers more inclined to keep cattle longer and graze them,” says Neil.
His system is based on buying-in 400 Continental-sired dairy-bred calves a year from local farms. All cattle are sold deadweight with steers taken to carcass weights of 360kg and heifers 330kg. The beef diet mix, formulated with guidance from Keenan Rumans, comprises silage, fodder beet, maize, barley, wheat and whole-crop.
“There’s a lot of talk about “frame” and getting flesh on these big cattle as quickly as possible, but if feed prices do rise I think we’ll see more cattle kept longer and allowed to develop more frame before being finished at 20-24 months old. We were getting 280p/kg for R grade cattle in early January. Prices are improving, but we’ve all got a lot of catching up to do in terms of making money out of beef.”


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