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Adapt management to meet processors’ new specifications

Some beef finishers have been left in a quandary after processors failed to notify them in advance of the upper wight limit changes. 


Processors’ failure to notify producers in advance of changes to their new 400-420kg upper weight limit has left some finishers in a quandary and losing significant money, particularly those who have bought-in heavy stores.

According to Harbro’s David MacKenzie, finishers have scope to avoid future penalties and to compensate for the potential output loss arising from lighter steer carcases by adopting new management and feed strategies and focusing on improving heifer output.

He says: “Continental sires have an important role to play in efficient beef production.

They are able to finish to heavier weights in a shorter period of time, demonstrating improved efficiency. Consequently, now is the time to be increasing output if farmers wish to maintain a profitable and sustainable system.”

Data from 96,000 cattle slaughtered in 2014 highlights the crux of the current issue – continental sires are associated with improved output, both from steers and heifers.

But these finishers are currently suffering penalties of up to £200/head because they find their target weights and grades no longer apply.

Processors’ actions are having a similar knock-on effect in the store ring, where in some markets prices are significantly down.


Mr MacKenzie says: “The immediate challenge for finishers is to manage continental cross progeny to fit market specifications by focusing on the following points.

“Firstly, look at management. Rethink your current strategy to achieve the new specification and plan from birth.

“Nutrition is another important element. Split steers and heifers from the creep stage and feed specific gender-formulated diets through to finishing, working closely with your nutritionist.

“Measuring and monitoring is key. Weigh the total group of animals at regular intervals, benchmark both within and outwith the herd.

“Health should be a focus. Introduce a herd health management plan.

“And finally, assess individual animal health by monitoring slaughterhouse health reports.”

Continental cross steers: Mr MacKenzie advises reducing the store and growing stage. Higher energy diets introduced earlier will reduce frame size while a balanced diet will provide adequate fat cover at optimal weight. Benchmark target weights per age and stage towards the end goal.

Target: 390kg deadweight; 705kg liveweight by 610 days; aim for 1.1kg daily liveweight gain or better from birth.

Continental cross heifers: Mr MacKenzie says one of the greatest inefficiencies within the UK beef industry is the sub-optimal output from heifers and any move away from continental sires threatens to exacerbate this trend. There are real opportunities for producers to improve heifer output.


Quality protein is key in the first year of life, starting at 18 per cent crude protein (CP) and keeping CP level at an average 2 per cent higher than steers throughout the finisher period. He advises to not introduce the same high energy and starch levels formulated for feeding to steers.

The aim is to encourage heifer frame size without laying down excess fat.

Target: 360kg deadweight; 650kg liveweight by 550 days; aim for 1.1kg daily liveweight gain or better from birth.

Case study - Scotch Beef Farm of the Year 2015

Case study -  Scotch Beef Farm of the Year 2015

The Watson family of Darnford, Banchory, have proved introducing fast finishing Charolais cross steers and heifers into a planned management and nutrition strategy is resulting in adequate finish and an average 380kg deadweight within 20 months.

Their success contributed towards them being awarded the Scotch Beef Farm of the Year 2015.

Peter Watson farms 546 hectares (1,350 acres), with sons David and Adam and daughters-in-law Aynsley and Lynne. They run a 426-cow Salers closed suckler herd with 274 spring-calving cows put to Charolais and all progeny finished. The 152 autumn-calving cows are bred pure for replacement purposes.

Peter Watson says: “Achieving an average of 380kg deadweight is not new for us. Our objective has always been to maximise the number of kilos produced per cow and realise weight gain as early as possible. The quicker these beasts finish, the quicker they are off the farm.

“Each suckler cow has to justify her existence. We produce high quality finished cattle sold deadweight while we trade the pick of the crop through the Thainstone store ring and they invariably end up within the day’s top 10 per cent of prices.

“We have in the herd the genetics to achieve fast weight gain, and Charolais is the breed to do the job, but from our experience, we are aware it is nutrition and management which really make the difference. Fast weight gain is essential whatever the system and it can be adjusted to suit the new grid.”




Charolais has been the preferred terminal sire for 25 years. Bulls are selected initially on visual appraisal for feet and mobility, then from the breed’s top 10 per cent and, in particular, for weight estimated breeding values.

The continental cross females have recently been replaced by Salers. Heifer replacements are selected for size, feet, temperament and maternal qualities.


A 12-week calving period is maintained in the spring-calving herd, and over nine weeks in autumn, to help simplify management. Steers and heifers are separated at eight-month weaning, enabling a tailored nutrition programme which takes in to account their very different requirements.

All animals are allowed to grow to achieve adequate frame size before being intensively finished.


Diets are all home mixed using the same basic ingredients – home-grown forage and cereals combined with cost-effective bought-in by-products. The key is formulating diets specific to age, weight and gender, consequently they offer flexibility to vary starch and protein levels at key stages of development.

Measuring and monitoring

All cattle are weighed and benchmarked at birth, at eight-month weaning and at six-week intervals thereafter until reaching target finishing weight.


The unit’s nutritionist, Harbro’s David MacKenzie offers the following pointers:

Calves: Low-starch creep feed to avoid early fat deposition

Yearlings: Reasonably high-protein diet, 15-17 per cent crude protein, with limited starch, to encourage lean growth and frame development

Housing: Cattle are turned out for a limited three-month grazing period and set stocked, followed by housing in early August. They are introduced to full finishing rations after they reach 500kg liveweight


Steers: Low-protein, high-starch finisher

Heifers: Higher protein, lower starch finisher

Limited forage: Both steer and heifer diets are formulated with limited forage and balanced with cereal and dark grains to achieve the correct fat cover and meat yield

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