While current beef prices are holding steady, the lack of a decent rise is far from encouraging for winter finishing.
Finishers who bought expensive stores in October and November are looking at yet another year of a loss making winter finishing enterprise, unless beef prices take a big lift in the new year.
Farmers are right to question everything in relation to their business, including the future of finishing animals during the winter period.
There is currently no incentive to finish animals during the most expensive part of the year. However, efficiency is still key to a profitable business and even more important when margins are tight.
If animals were close to finishing at housing they should be assessed regularly to determine level of finish. It’s exceedingly more expensive to lay down fat than muscle, so it’s important to draft animals as they become fit.
Taking a typical finishing ration at €330/tonne and 70DMD silage at €40/tonne feed costs for a 650kg bullock will be €3.64/day.
If a steer at 650kg is gaining 1.2kg a day at a 60% kill out, at a price of €5.06/kg for an R+3= grading bullock, it will gross €3.64/day, so good animal performance is key.
Remember this is only covering feed costs before anything else is counted in. Beef price needs to be over €6/kg for winter finishers to break even, never mind make a margin.
Regular weighing will also help determine whether animals are falling off in terms of weight gain coming close to finish.
In the case of steers and heifers, animals should be handled around the tail, rib and loin. Making a note of your assessment and visiting the plant to compare your results can be a worthwhile exercise in training your eye.
Assessing fat cover on bulls is a little more difficult, and the areas that should be looked at are around the codd area and at the tail head.
Weighing is also a really useful tool in assessing animals for the factory. Some cattle can surprise you when they hit the scales. Taking a note of weight gains will also help you decide what cattle need to go and what cattle can be fed on for longer based on continued high weight gains.
Diet will affect the fat deposition on an animal. The energy content of the feed and the level of supplementation is critical. If finishing very heavy animals or out of spec stock, ensure you have spoken to your procurement contact to let them know what you have and when you intend to slaughter them.
While there have been no issues with heavy carcases for the last number of weeks when supplies are tight, factories could change this at short notice if it suited them
I have heard reports of pneumonia in sheds this week. Watch for signs of animals not eating or seeming dull. Take some temperatures if you’re not sure as some sick animals may not be showing symptoms.
Temperatures of weanlings should be around 38-39°C. Consult your vet if you’re not happy. Some farmers have found allowing autumn calves outdoors for a few hours every day has helped reduce pneumonia incidence.
Don’t forget about booster shots if you are on a pneumonia vaccination programme, and make sure you have the diet and dosing plan right.