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On-farm improvements more important than prices

Beef and sheep farmer Meilir Jones is adding thousands of pounds to his farming business as a result of daily benchmarking analysis.

 

This article follows the publication of the results of a Farmers Guardian survey on benchmarking. Commissioned by HSBC, more than 200 farmers took part in the research.

READ MORE ABOUT THE FINDINGS

Meilir Jones runs 90 ewes producing shearling rams and 1,300 beef cattle are finished each year.
Meilir Jones runs 90 ewes producing shearling rams and 1,300 beef cattle are finished each year.
On-farm improvements more important than prices

Meilir Jones, who farms near Trelawnyd, Flintshire, Wales, says: “We in the beef industry each have very different systems, with different ration costs to take account of, so it’s not easy to compare against national data as you’re not comparing like-for-like.”

 

This difficulty has not put Mr Jones off benchmarking though. Instead of comparing his farm’s data against national sets or with a group of peers, Mr Jones competes against himself.

 

With 90 ewes producing shearling rams and about 1,300 beef cattle finished each year on 101 hectares, Mr Jones is handling his data through farm management software and daily analysis.

 

His overall aim is to increase the rate of weight gain of his individual beef cattle.

 

Close analysis pays off

 

Each day for the last six years, Mr Jones has compared his beef cattle against each other to identify the best- and worst-performing individuals.

 

He weighs them every 20 days to collect data, and those which gain weight quickly stay on-farm longer, while those which do not will be slaughtered earlier, so as not to incur additional feed costs. The analysis also helps him identify which farms to buy his cattle off.

 

Mr Jones compares his data yearon- year, and through small changes he has been making gradual improvements. Five years ago his cattle’s average weight gain was 1.1kg/day; two years later it was up to 1.3kg/day.

 

He says: “Every 0.1kg/day weight gain equals £28/animal and £37,000/year extra for my business.”


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Small changes but big improvements

 

Benchmarking has shown Mr Jones that on-farm changes can have a much bigger impact than just fixating on input and output costs, he says.

 

Before, he admits he went from year-to-year hoping the farmgate price would create a margin on what he paid for cattle.

 

He says: “I have been surprised. In the past we were dependent on beasts to create margin, but now I realise price is not the most important thing. It is more about what you can do in your business that matters.”

 

Half his margin target has been achieved by changes made on-farm, says Mr Jones.

 

Improvements can be simple. Through analysis, he realised cattle in an open shed were gaining 0.2kg/day less than in a shed with sides, costing him £56/animal.

 

“We live in a windy area, so cattle were using their energy to keep warm rather than put on meat. We closed the sides up and they performed better immediately.”

 

He has also analysed and tweaked cattle rations, with the overall conclusion that a balance of everything is best.

 

Mr Jones also includes all machinery services charges in his data. He divides all costs by the number of cattle so he can work out his cost of production.

Fitter for the future

 

A ‘big downfall’ of the beef industry is that most farmers do not analyse their data as much as in sectors such as poultry, he says. “If we want to be sustainable for the future, benchmarking will be essential.”

 

His analysis has definitely made his business more resilient and able to cope with Brexit, he believes.

 

Another result of benchmarking is that he believes he is working ‘smarter not harder’. Every morning after feeding the cattle, he goes into the farmhouse to analyse his data.

 

He says: “There is so much you can do with your farming business to create a margin. Every farm is different, but without data you will not know how to act.”

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