Hitting targets at every stage of the finishing system

There’s no “blanket” solution to the shrinking margins faced by beef producers, but cutting feed costs by replacing a proportion of the cereals in the diet with high-energy forages is an option that must be considered wherever feasible.

That was the message from Simon Marsh, Harper Adams University College’s beef specialist, when he addressed a meeting of beef producers at Askham Bryan College, York.

“When you have a system that can grow or acquire these forages and you can feed it while ensuring it’s used to the best advantage, they are worth looking into. But whatever the system, the best margins will only be earned when there’s a strict approach to hitting targets at every stage of finishing,” said Mr Marsh at the meeting, organised to announce the winners of Askham Bryan College’s Fantasy Farming competition.

Beef producers evaluating high-energy forage alternatives – as well as co-products – must be close to a source of supply, ensure rations are independently formulated, undertake a high standard of storage to minimise losses and be aware that there is a finite supply of co-products, which will inevitably also rise in price.

But no matter what your system, it’s essential to avoid cattle getting too heavy and becoming unprofitable in the later stages of finishing. This means ensuring cattle maintain even growth rates and that “poor doers” are sold early and not allowed to undermine the profits of the good performers, explained Mr Marsh.

“There’s no panacea, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep focused on every aspect of your beef system and to look carefully at where improvements can be made that will lift margins.

“Stick or twist is the big question. But when your cattle are hitting their target levels of performance, you should be able to withstand these challenging times,” said Mr Marsh.

He urged beef finishers to select for slaughter at Fat Class 3 and before the feed conversion rate deteriorated to 8:1. “That’s when profits start to be eroded. You’ll spend four times more on energy costs to gain 1kg of fat than you will to gain 1kg of lean meat,” he added.

Further articles from the Askham Bryan beef producers meeting:

Farmers must ‘get more on the ball’ when seeling beef

‘Young Ones’ team wins Fantasy Farming league

Wagyu beef hits Asda shelves

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