By Marianne Curtis
RECENT events in France are unlikely to mean a rapid lifting of over 30-month scheme cull restrictions, say industry experts.
But they reckon there is little excuse for the high numbers of clean cattle still entering the scheme and warn that they are a loss the industry cant afford.
According to MLC beef strategist, Duncan Sinclair, there are still 66,000 clean cattle a year entering OTMS, three years after it was introduced.
“I can understand why heifers destined for breeding but failing to get in-calf are entering OTMS, but there is little excuse for more than 20,000 steers a year going in.”
Mr Sinclair says there are regional differences, with higher numbers of OTMS cattle from the south west and Wales.
But numbers in Scotland are lower, possibly because the differential between prices paid for cattle under 30 months and OTMS cattle is greater than in other parts of the UK.
Why total numbers are so high, however, remains a mystery, he says.
“With the amount of technical advice available, the problem ought not to be on this scale.
“Scheme compensation provides only 60p/kg whereas even the plainest types of cattle make 85p/kg when sold through the ring liveweight. This represents a loss of 10-15p/kg; a loss that the industry can ill afford.”
Keeping on top of records is essential to make sure cattle are not missed.
“Organise your farm office and keep an eye on passports to check the last date that cattle can be sold before they exceed the age limit,” says independent beef consultant David Allen.
But there is no point in recognising that cattle are nearing 30 months only to realise that they are still in store condition and it is too late to finish them, says Shropshire-based Signet consultant, Ian Pritchard.
“Plan six months ahead of the 30-month limit, assessing which cattle need to be sold.
“Analyse silage and formulate a diet which enables cattle to finish in the quickest time at the lowest cost-per-kilogram gain.
“There are some cheap potatoes about this year, which make an ideal finishing feed.”
For the 40,000 plus heifers entering the scheme each year, a rethink on government policy is needed, says NBA chairman, Robert Robinson.
“Raising the age limit to 36 months would mean that many barren heifers could enter the food chain because producers would have more time to discover non-breeders.”
But political sensitivity relating to schemes already in place which were instrumental in getting the beef export ban lifted mean a review is unlikely in the near future, according to a MAFF spokesman.
Despite no sign of an early raising of the age limit, the number of OTMS heifers could be reduced by improved management, says Mr Pritchard.
“Aim to calve heifers at two to two and a half years old. This means serving at 15-21 months, allowing plenty of time to find out whether heifers are in-calf before they reach 30 months.
“Scanning or pregnancy-diagnosing heifers three to four months after service only costs a modest amount of money compared with the cost of letting barren ones go over the 30-month limit.
“No more than 5% of heifers should be barren. Where the proportion is higher than this, there is something wrong and nutrition and health needs to be examined.”
He advises separating heifers from cows before service to avoid bullying, which can reduce the amount of feed they are receiving, leading to low conception rates.
Barren heifers should be separated from cows and fed a finishing ration, he advises.