Predicted feed wheat prices at around £170 tonne in January will continue to challenge most beef farmers, particularly those with poor quality grass silage or lower than usual forage stocks.
It will be important to channel the available resources at those animals that can provide the best return for the investment in feed. Efficient use of any feed relies on it being fed as part of a balanced ration that meets the nutritional needs of each particular animal.
Cattle should therefore be grouped with those of similar requirements, for example, cows at the same stage of pregnancy, and growing or finishing cattle of similar age, breed and sex.
This will also minimise bullying at the feed trough and optimise the performance of the whole group.
COST OF LIVEWEIGHT GAIN
For cattle that are within 200kg of finishing, do not be tempted to try and reduce costs by cutting back and growing them more slowly to finish off grass next season.
This will be false economy because daily feed costs are irrelevant in this situation. What is important is the cost per kg of liveweight gain.
For example, a 500kg steer gaining 1.3kg per day could be eating 11kg of DM per day. If the cost of this ration is £130 per tonne DM, daily feed costs would be £1.43 with a cost per liveweight gain of £1.10 per kg.
Reducing the feed cost to £120 per tonne DM, by increasing the amount of silage fed, would reduce growth rates. If they fell to 1.1kg per day, the cost of liveweight gain would increase to £1.20 per kg.
More importantly the number of days required to reach the target finished weight and fat cover would increase. For all finishing systems, minimising the time cattle stay on farm is a critical driver of profitability.
Spring calving suckler cows should be safely in calf by now and it will be worthwhile pregnancy diagnosing cows and heifers to identify those that are not pregnant.
Non-pregnant females represent a cost to the business and should not be kept in the herd.
Housing cows in good body condition will minimise the amount of expensive purchased feeds they will consume over the winter. Weaning before cows start to lose condition is crucial. It is more efficient to feed a weaned calf directly, than feed a cow to produce milk for her calf. The cow will also put on condition faster if she is not suckling a calf.
Weaned calves should also be sorted and fed according to whether they are to be sold immediately, or as stores, finished or kept as replacements.
Heifers destined for the herd need to be kept growing at a steady rate to reach the target 65 per cent of mature weight by next bulling season.
All feedstuffs – home-grown or bought-in – will be more valuable this year than most. So it sensible to ensure every bit is eaten and little is wasted. Keep feed stores clean, tidy and vermin-free, and manage the removal of clamp silage in a way to minimise waste or spoilage. Make sure feeding troughs are cleaned out regularly to ensure optimum dry matter intakes, and that all stock has free access to fresh, clean water.