Suckler strategy needed to beat supply shortfall

13 July 2001

Suckler strategy needed to beat supply shortfall

Suckler replacements may

be in short supply this winter,

but what is the best long-

term strategy? Jessica Buss

and Jeremy Hunt report

ANY female capable of producing a beef calf is more than likely to find a market this winter, as the industry recovers from foot-and-mouth, but a more organised approach to breeding replacements is needed.

National Beef Association chief executive, Robert Forster, says 130,000 breeding suckler cows and an unknown number of heifers have been lost to F&M. This will prevent producers from sourcing their ideal replacements this year, he says.

"But every effort must be made to maintain breeding herds, to avoid an even greater shortfall in beef calves than we know is occurring now." MLC predicts that home-produced beef sales will fall to 66% in 2001 from 78% in 2000.

But there may be a supply of heifers coming from suckled stock which were not sold last autumn, when prices were low, and could not be sold this spring. "Some of these are now approaching 30 months and their owners are putting them with the bull. They have more value as breeding animals than as finishers. But many will be three-quarter bred, as they were intended for slaughter."

These are not ideal and some may have more terminal than maternal traits, but they will produce calves next year, he says. Dairy bred replacements are also likely to be in demand.

However, Mr Forster believes longer-term replacement strategies need some thought. NBA is working with organisations, including MLC and the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs, to develop a more organised approach to producing suckler replacements.

"A major target will be to increase longevity, for which we require a beef bred heifer with a strong maternal element. These are in short supply at present.

"Economically, it is better to buy a purpose bred heifer than one with a lot of Holstein blood. Holsteins are good milking animals, but have qualities which are unnecessary in suckler cows. They have a high demand for feed, over-produce milk and do not last long."

More producers are breeding their own heifers than in the past and are using crossbreeding strategies, but it may be more efficient to work together with other producers, he says.

"In F&M areas, restocking producers could work together to ensure higher quality replacements. Using the Farm Business Advice Services five free days of advice, 40 producers could have a full-time adviser for a year, allowing them to develop a strategy for breeding replacements. Then one or two farms could concentrate on breeding heifers for the commercial units, knowing what they want."

Mr Forster reckons suckler cow breeding should be based on dual purpose breeds. Although many of these are in short supply, numbers of South Devon and Simmental type animals are higher, he adds.

While the maternal bull could be of the same or a similar breed, he says there is also the option to produce purpose bred crosses, taking advantage of the known value of hybrid vigour.

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