Improving Holstein bull beef finishing margins

20 October 2000

Improving Holstein bull beef finishing margins

By Marianne Curtis

A GROSS margin of £155/head is possible for a Holstein bull beef finishing enterprise. But eligibility for beef subsidies and slaughtering bulls at a sufficiently high weight is necessary to achieve this.

These are the findings of a recently completed project involving 10 Holstein bulls at Harper Adams College, Newport, Shropshire. Project leader, Simon Marsh says bulls growth rates were surprisingly high, averaging 1.4kg/day from birth to slaughter.

"Bulls achieved liveweight gains comparable to other late maturing cattle breeds. However, their killing out percentage was low ranging from 48-52%, and grades ranged from O- to P+ at fat class three," says Mr Marsh.

An average slaughter weight of 539kg was reached at just under 12 months old. Price averaged £1.45/kg deadweight and carcass weight averaged 271kg, with a penalty on carcasses weighing less than 260kg.

"Old text books on Friesian bull beef management advise slaughter at 450-500kg liveweight, but this is too light for modern Holsteins, which have a poorer killing out percentage.

"A minimum slaughter weight of 530kg liveweight is required to achieve a carcass weight in excess of 260kg," he explains.

The study involved a group of September 1999 born Holstein calves which were fed ad lib cows milk and milk replacer to weaning at 8.5 weeks when they weighed 111kg, with a calf rearing cost of £81/head.

"Getting calves off to a good start was the priority but calves did drink significant quantities of milk, and it may be possible to reduce costs by feeding less milk without compromising performance."

Further cost savings may also have been possible by using a home-mixed ration rather than the beef nut used in the study, he believes. "A high energy 12.9ME, 14% protein beef nut containing 320g/kg DM of starch and costing £105/t was offered ad lib.

"Using cereals with rape, soya and minerals would have worked out about £25/t cheaper than the beef nut, but we were trying to reflect the situation on many dairy farms which may not have ready access to cereals."

In the face of rising protein prices, Mr Marsh believes that it may be possible to further reduce costs by cutting ration protein levels. "We held protein at 14% from weaning to slaughter. There is no need to go any higher than this. Once cattle are past the three month stage protein could be cut to 12%."

But no matter how good technical performance is, eligibility for beef subsidies is essential for profitability of the enterprise, he says.

"What tips a Holstein bull beef enterprise one way or the other is ability to claim premiums." &#42


&#8226 High growth rates.

&#8226 Margin £155 a head with subsidy.

&#8226 Minimum slaughter weight 530kg.

Harper Adams Holstein bull

beef financial performance

£ a head


Sales (excl BSP*+SP*) 393

Less calf purchase 0

Total 393

Variable costs

Calf rearing to three months 81

Finishing concentrates

@£105/t 235

Vet and med £5

Bedding and miscellaneous 34

Total 355

Gross margin (excl BSP+SP) 38

(inc BSP+SP) 155

*BSP beef special premium, SP slaughter premium.

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