Suckled calf cost savings are possible

THE AVERAGE cost of producing suckled calves could be reduced by almost 35%, visitors to Beef Expo 2005 at Builth Wells were told.

Prys Morgan, industry development director at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales – gave this conclusion after a survey showing a typical herd’s costs of 166p/kg for a saleable calf. Fixed costs amounted to 102p/kg of the total.

He based his estimate on a 50-cow suckler herd with a current 20-week calving period, which produced 45 weaned calves a year weighing an average of 310kg at 345 days.”Increasing weaned calf percentage from 90 to 95% by better feeding, useof crossbreed cow hybrid vigour, better husbandry and reduced disease, would cut variable costs by 4p/kg, and overheads by 5p/kg,” said Mr Morgan.

But a bigger saving would be achieved by pruning the calving period to 12 weeks, increasing average sale weight and age by 40kg and 50 days, respectively. This would take 12p/kg off fixed costs and 19p/kg off total costs.

He suggested better grazing management and more precise rationing of conserved feeds and concentrates, including creep, might cut variable costs by 10% and overall inputs 16p/kg calf weight.

Using high beef value bulls would also boost weaning weights, improve conformation and raise average suckled calf sale weight by 20kg, which would slice another 10p/kg off production costs.Cow longevity would be higher if the management of harder working cows was top notch.

This could reduce costs by up to 3p/kg of calves produced in herds with high replacement rates.”The benefits of working the suckler cow harder can amount to a reduction of the 166p/kg average production cost indicated by our survey to 109p/kg,” Mr Morgan forecast.

This was better than the 121p/kg total production cost on the best third of farms surveyed in Wales. But to assess the potential for improving the situation in their own herds, producers had to establish their cost structure and cow performance relative to set targets. “The huge variations between farms in our survey and others suggest efficiency gains can be made.”