With rising costs of production and multiple factors affecting the price of beef, many beef farmers are now opting to finish cattle early.
Producing what the market requires is crucial, with deductions for oversized carcases and the higher cost of finishing more than outweighing any gain from additional weight.
Gareth Parker, livestock procurement officer at Pickstock Telford, says: “Customers are becoming increasingly stringent when it comes to consistency in the size and weight of joints and steaks, with very specific packaging guidelines. Therefore, for us to offer the best possible price to our farmers, it is important carcase specifications are met.”
He says more and more farmers are finishing cattle sooner at lower weights and recognising the financial benefits of this.
“‘Weight always pays’ has been a difficult concept to overcome, but we are now seeing an increasing number of cattle meeting target weights and grade.”
Analysis of data from prime cattle processed at Pickstock Telford over the last three months show a 15 per cent uplift in prime carcases hitting specifications.
“Previously about 73 per cent of cattle we processed were within specification, but this is now closer to 88 per cent, with very few overweight cattle now being received.”
He says when you scrutinise the figures, the improvement in profit margins that can be achieved by finishing cattle within spec and in less days is clear.
“Taking into consideration the returns for overweight cattle, the additional feed costs and time involved in an extended finishing period, there is an increase in net profit sending younger cattle, within specification.”
When looking at the theoretical costings (see table 1) for an R4L continental steer finished at 650kg
liveweight compared to the same animal finished at 765kg, Mr Parker says that despite the carcase value of a heavier steer being slightly higher, when you take into consideration the additional cost of finishing, you would be about £40 worse off.
He adds beyond this there are other financial benefits to factor in for the farmer, including greater capacity to increase the throughput of finishing cattle through a shed per year (table 2), plus bedding and labour savings.
Mr Parker says the key to finishing cattle at the right specification is close measurement and management throughout the finishing period, as well as a good communication with your processor who can discuss what the market demands.
“It is key for beef producers and processors to work closely together to continue to improve consistency within the supply chain which will ultimately support margins at farm-level.
“Our procurement team are out on more farms than ever before and working much closer with farmers to help assess cattle. An increasing number of producers are now weighing regularly and monitoring growth rates, as well as considering the EUROP grid.”
While there are many factors that fall outside of the farm gate which affect profitability within beef production, Mr Parker says taking close control of your own system to improve consistency and accuracy is important.