Finishing delay tactics just a retrograde step

20 February 1998

Finishing delay tactics just a retrograde step

Delaying finishing cattle has

proved a fruitless exercise,

according to one Cheshire

farm manager. Jeremy Hunt


THERE is nothing to be gained by switching off finishing cattle and holding them on a cheaper store regime in the hope of improved prices, claims Cheshire farm manager Edward Brisbourne.

Mr Brisbourne speaks from experience. He runs Picton Gorse Farm, Mickle Trafford, near Chester, for Diana McConnell. The beef and arable unit produces about 25 finished cattle every month and will soon be increasing its contract calf rearing throughput to almost 1000 calves a year.

The farm used to produce about 300 head of silage bull beef and 60-100 heifers on an 18-month system. But he admits that the farms beef production is now complex, a direct result of the past two years of uncertainty for beef.

There is a newly established suckler herd of 20 cows – set-up with a bunch of home-reared Hereford-cross heifers – 90 head of bull beef and about 200 beef heifers. All finishing cattle are bought-in as calves through Warwickshire Quality Calves, the company which uses the farm as a contract rearer.

The beef business has been further complicated by a management about-turn concerning a group of 60 Holstein Friesian bull calves bought in November 1996. They were intended to finish as 12-month-old silage bull beef, but market uncertainties prompted an unprecedented switch.

"We decided to castrate them in April and instead of keeping them motoring-on inside we turned them out last summer with the aim of claiming the second BSP payment and selling them in autumn 1998 at 650kg-plus."

While the decision seemed sound at the time, Mr Brisbourne now thinks that switching-off these cattle and opting for a two-year finish will not pay-off. "We have run them inside as stores this winter, but they are bunging up the system, causing us a cash flow problem and taking up space in the yards.

"If we had kept them as bulls they would have hit a depressed market around Christmas time, but I doubt they will leave very much more by keeping them until the autumn. But at least we will have the second headage payment on them."

These cattle are a constant reminder that there is nothing to be gained by holding back stock already committed to a system. Their delayed marketing has meant no cattle have been sold off the farm for three months, but with March approaching there are now heifers ready to sell.

Despite low prices, Mr Brisbourne is not considering any more delaying tactics. All finishing cattle will continue on their complete diet based on 60% grass silage, 30% maize silage and 10% brewers grains plus a daily intake of 1.5kg of a barley/protein mix with Romensin.

Most of the cattle are intensively finished and at about 60 days of reaching target weights of 450kg for heifers and 520-550kg for bulls they receive an extra night feed to lift the daily intake of the barley/protein mix to 3.0-3.5kg. Cattle are on the complete diet from 14 weeks old.

"There is nothing to be gained by cutting out the extra feed. The aim is to produce beef as efficiently as possible and to maintain a daily liveweight gain of 0.9-1.1kg. We have to keep them going right through and not cut any corners.

"In the late stages of finishing we want the extra barley/protein mix to restrict silage intake and give us maximum feed efficiency."

Mr Brisbourne believes that maintaining cash flow is critical. "We have seen how our cash flow has been affected by switching over the bulls to steer beef and we cant afford that sort of hiccup on a larger scale."

Some Belgian Blue heifers summered at grass can safely be taken to 520kg without the risk of getting over-fat; cereal-fed heifers have an optimum sale weight of 480kg. All cattle are sold deadweight.

"There may be a some scope to marginally increase sale weights but it very much depends who is buying them. We do not want to allow our grades to slip. Our target is R and O+, we cant get many heifers to grade any better than that and to get them heavier could backfire."

Signet beef specialist Ian Pritchard, who costs the herd, says the farm has made maximum use of grass by switching more cattle from the 18-24-month system over to a silage beef regime.

"A lot of finishers have considered easing back, with the aim of delaying the marketing of their cattle, but it is a retrograde step.

"Once a finisher has stock on a system he should keep them going and not make changes midstream. Prices may be low, but keeping cattle longer than is necessary will affect cash flow and inevitably mean cattle are around for longer and eat more.

"No one knows what is ahead but with cheaper calves and stores on the market it is better to clear out finished cattle and restock at these price levels in the hope that the market will improve," says Mr Pritchard.

He hopes gross margins for heifers this spring will be about £100 a head helped by the high killing out percentage – about 57% – of the Belgian Blue. &#42

Theres nothing to be gained by holding back stock already committed to a system… cattle at Picton Gorse Farm will be kept to targets. The beef and arable unit will soon be increasing its contract calf rearing throughput.


&#8226 Do not delay finishing.

&#8226 Maintain liveweight gain.

&#8226 Stay on chosen system.

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