3 things to consider when finishing heifers

Beef farmers finishing heifers must focus on making the highest margin a head and not the highest price a head by choosing the right breed type to suit their system.

Although heifers will kill out at a slightly lower percentage than bulls or steers, they can be cheaper to purchase and will have lower maintenance requirements due to their smaller size, said Rhidian Jones of SAC Consulting during a recent Eblex teleconference.

Decent margins are available, so long as an appropriate system is chosen to match the breed type, he said.

Mr Jones explained some factors that can dictate which system is most suitable for finishing heifers.

Factors to consider when finishing heifers


Suckler cows

 Dairy cows

Beef-bred calves tend to be spring born and this may mean only one housing period is necessary.

Autumn-born calves are more likely to need two housing periods and possibly two grazing periods, if finishing smaller breeds extensively. 

These can be born year-round and therefore are more readily available.

However, it is more efficient to manage groups of even-sized heifers for feeding and veterinary treatment.

It also reduces bullying, minimising stress and improving animal welfare.


Traditional or native breeds

Continental cross-breeds

These smaller framed animals are more suited to grazing systems.

They are slower growing and will be lighter at slaughter but will require less feed to finish.

They need a longer growing phase with a reduced daily liveweight gain to ensure they develop sufficient frame.

They then only require a short time (one to two months) on the more expensive finishing diet to flesh out to acceptable weights.

These heifers can now reach in excess of 600kg finished liveweight and kill out at 355kg at 20 months old.

They are generally larger framed, fast growing and will mature later, but will require longer (two to three months) on the finishing diet to achieve the heavier weight. 


Grassland areas

 Arable areas

Farms with good grazing are suited to spring-born heifers of all types.

Native breeds can finish off grass with some concentrates fed late summer. Continental-crosses will need supplementing throughout the grazing season. 

Farms with access to home-grown cereals and with good buildings may be best suited to finishing continental-crosses with a larger frame, or those born in autumn. 

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