Is your finishing on target?
Setting and meeting performance targets is vital for profitability. Emma Penny reports
WHILE dairy farmers and lamb producers are usually acutely aware of meeting production targets, beef producers are often content to let cattle drift towards finishing.
So warns Scottish Agricultural College beef specialist Basil Lowman. "Beef production appears to be largely dictated by the animals, rather than by producers setting and trying to achieve target liveweight gains and finishing dates. Efficient production depends on setting and meeting targets."
Finishing cattle faster means producers could have more cattle on-farm – either suckler cows or finishers – and would also gain from the better efficiency of younger animals.
"The target must be to plan to have cattle dead at about 18 months, within market specs; 340kg deadweight or less, E, U, or R grade and 3-4H. Achieving that means producers should work out liveweight gain targets – and weigh cattle to ensure they meet those."
Some producers would argue that their cattle would not finish any more quickly, but thats not an argument that Dr Lowman believes in. "Too often, producers are content to let their cattle drift towards finished condition. Even the heaviest, latest maturing types, for instance Charolais bulls, should be finished earlier than they presently are."
Aiming to finish these bulls at 18 months means they have 540 days to put on 660kg, assuming a birth weight of 40kg and a live finishing weight of 700kg. "To achieve 700kg liveweight at 18 months means bulls have to put on 1.2kg/day, which is an extremely high liveweight gain."
Finishing at 24 months means the bulls have 720 days to put on 660kg, an average liveweight gain of 0.9kg/day.
"Thats not a major problem to achieve. The bulls will probably put on 1.2kg/day on their mothers, and a further 1kg/day after weaning," he says.
But producers finishing Charolais bulls at 28 months are achieving liveweight gain of only 0.75kg/day – not nearly enough, warns Dr Lowman. "If that animal is achieving 1.2kg/day on its mother, then its performing miserably after weaning."
Killing cattle earlier would save on feed costs, even though feed rate may have to be increased, he says. "If you can finish cattle at 22 months rather than 28, you will be able to take advantage of better efficiency; a higher proportion of feed will go towards liveweight gain rather than maintenance."
Producers finishing more traditional cross cattle such as Simmental x Luing may have to aim for a slightly longer finishing period. "Spring born, weaned animals will start their first winter at about 250kg. The target must be to put on at least 150kg over that first winter – a gain of 0.75kg/day."
The cattle will be about 400kg at turnout in spring, and should put a further 150kg on at grass. "They wont be in finished condition off grass, but should be housed in October and fed hard, aiming for slaughter over the Christmas period when prices are at their highest."
Producers should set targets to ensure faster and more efficient finishing.
• Set targets.
• Aim for faster finishing.
• Check weigh.