Cut finishing times to capitalise on price boom and low feed costs
Beef producers in the Westcountry should aim to take advantage of lower cereal prices and robust carcass values by reducing finishing times this autumn.
The advice comes from the English Beef & Lamb Executive, which says that with harvest generally progressing well globally, competition between major producing countries is expected to result in lower prices for quality cereals.
That was likely to filter through to the feed market.
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For the first time in 13 months, the November 2013 contract for wheat closed below £160 per tonne.
"These low cereal prices are due to be coupled with tight supplies of finished cattle for the medium term," said Eblex livestock scientist Dylan Laws. "The decline in the breeding herd has reduced calf registrations this year and, even if herd rebuilding began now, a turnaround in high-quality beef supply is unlikely before 2016.
"Strong consumer confidence in British beef and strengthening support for native-bred cattle means the outlook for returns to beef producers is robust."
With cereal prices easing and carcass values at their current level, supplementation at grass offered a cost-effective option for finishers seeking to get cattle away quickly this year, he said. Extra concentrate feed in the autumn would increase growth rates and help to reduce overall finishing costs.
Mr Laws added: "The objective of supplementation at grass is to avoid or reduce the time needed to house cattle for finishing.
"Having a clear idea of target slaughter weight and date will allow you to work out the growth rate needed and then whether supplements at grazing are required to achieve that."
Even where autumn grass was in good supply, the growth rate achievable was likely to be less than 1kg a day, whereas the target could be up to 1.5kg a day, and feeding cereals or other concentrates at 0.5kg per 100kg liveweight should give a positive return.
So a 500kg animal would require about 2.5kg per head per day.
But grass supply was moderate or poor, feeding at 1kg per 100kg liveweight might be required to achieve finishing targets.
He stressed: "When more than 2.5kg of concentrates a day is fed, it is advisable to split this into two feeds to avoid digestive upsets.
"Suitable concentrate feeds should be high in energy, at least 30% starch and sugar, with 12 to 14% crude protein in the dry matter.
"For growing cattle and suckled calves, offering concentrates for six weeks prior to housing can help reduce any check at housing, when livestock switch to a winter ration."
For both growing and finishing cattle, the optimum sward heights in autumn were 10 to 15cm in fields being grazed rotationally, or 7 to 8cm when set-stocking.