Farming numbers to suit subsidy payments is no longer the case on livestock units, but when it comes to tightening up efficiencies, just how far do beef finishers have to go to see a profitable result?
One month, two months or even three months off the finishing period can save considerable input and help decrease the ever-increasing cost of production.
But suckler producers and brothers John and Bill Duffin of Lutterworth, Leicestershire, went one step further and reduced the finishing period by eight months, totally changing the direction of their beef enterprise.
“Farming simply to suit subsidy payments used to be our way of life, finishing heavy Charolais steers at 28 months old in order to claim the second payment,” says John Duffin.
“But with removal of headage payments, the numbers we were producing weren’t proving profitable.
“And with heavy steers often came weight penalties on carcasses, so anything gained in subsidy payments was often lost due to high weight,” he adds.
Running up to 250 pure Charolais cows put to an Aberdeen Angus sire instead of a Charolais, as previously used, means the brothers offer continuity and consistency to their major customer, Dovecote Park, and at a premium.
“With removal of the second grazing period, we now finish steers and heifers off farm by 18-20 months, leaving space in the year to supplement supply by finishing up to 60 Angus cross suckled calves bought in from Scotland,” says Bill.
Running up to seven Angus bulls, mostly bought through Perth bull sales, the herd at Cottage Farm, Bruntingthorpe calves all year round to maintain an even supply.
“We have bought bulls privately before, but I prefer buying from known breeders at sales,” says John.
A Charolais bull is also currently used to breed replacements, but Mr Duffin reckons a return to AI might be the way forward to save buying a new Charolais sire for just a 10% replacement rate.
And in line with removal of the second grazing period, changes have been made to feeding and housing of stock.
Mr Duffin believes feeding through a creep or ring feeder doesn’t work so well for his cattle, so a blend fed through a diet feeder is offered to boost intakes during the first grazing period.
“With a considerable lack of rain this year, the diet feeder has gone out much sooner than normal, offering a home-made blend of haylage, barley and minerals,” he says.
This diet has also resulted in fewer cases of bloat, he believes.
To make it easier to travel across fields, changes were made to the diet feeder’s tyres.
“We had looked at flotation tyres, but opted for similar tyres to those on our tractor, which have so far proved cheaper and work well on our land,” explains Mr Duffin.
Finished cattle are then housed on woodchip yards in a specialist fattening unit and fed a blend of grass silage, barley and minerals, according to appetite.
“The woodchips work well because it removes straw costs, maintains a low fly population and minimises feet problems.
Cattle also lie cooler in the hot summer months,” reckons Mr Duffin.
“The Charolais and Angus complement each other well, producing a well-grown, yet well-fleshed 350kg carcass grading R and above.”
Heifers that are not making the grade as replacement females, as well as purebred steers and finished stores, are finished at about 20 months old for Dawn Meats or Rose County Foods.
“It is important we keep our options open when it comes to selling finished stock, but I’m a strong believer in deadweight selling and have good relationships with the three processors we use,” he adds.
The Duffins also rely on their Meadow Quality Livestock fieldsman Gordon McWhirter, who selects the finished cattle for Dovecote.
“The main focus here is providing Dovecote with consistent batches, so monitoring performance through the index is vital.”