On suckler farms, what will it cost to keep cows to calve down and rear a calf during 2024? Knowing the cost of production is something every farmer should have a handle on. But, unfortunately, the number that work out such costs remain in the minority.

The cow is the biggest expense on suckler farms, so it is important to know if market returns are covering input costs.

By knowing the cost of production, targeted action can be taken to address areas where there is an overspend or no return on investment.

All too often, farmers automatically cut fertiliser and meal purchases in an effort to control production costs. But these inputs may not necessarily be problem areas.

Insufficient output, over-mechanisation or extensive borrowings may be the issues needing to be addressed. This will only be flagged up through some type of benchmarking exercise.

Example herd

As an example of calculating production costs, our analysis is based on a farmer running 60 spring-calving, continental, suckler cows.

The herd is calved in 12 weeks, from early February to late April. The farmer operates a suckler-to-weanling system, with the majority of calves sold in October.

Around 15 calves are deemed too light for sale in autumn and housed for 90 days to increase liveweight before selling in early spring.

For simplicity, the farmer operates an ‘all-in, all out’ system, with all calves sold. Replacements are purchased annually from the same breeder, with eight in-calf heifers replacing eight cows in 2024.

All land farmed is owned and in grass. Land is assumed to be productive and free-draining, capable of grazing livestock from early April to late October, most years.

In the calculations, it is assumed the level of inputs used are unchanged from last year. It is also assumed the farmer operates at a high level of technical efficiency.

Fixed costs are factored in to cover insurance, machinery operating costs, building repairs, etc, and valued at 125p/day, totaling £456/cow annually.

Calving to turnout

With cows calving from February to April, the average date of birth for the 2024 calf crop is 1 March, to reflect 80% of animals born in the first six weeks of calving.

Freshly calved cows remain housed until turnout on 10 April. During the 40-day housing period until turnout, cows eat 45kg/day of silage (£25/t) and 2kg/day of concentrate (£295/t).

One round bale of straw per cow is factored in for calving pens and creep areas, costing £25/head. Miscellaneous costs for calving aids, ear tags, etc, are included at £30/cow.

At 125p/day, fixed costs amount to £50/cow, bringing production costs for the 40-day period to £184/cow.

Grazing season

The grazing season runs from 10 April to 20 October. Calves are sold during the first three weeks of October and cows gradually housed to dry off.

As ground is productive, stocking rate is one cow and calf per acre on 60 acres, in a rotational grazing set up.

Four bags per acre of CAN will be applied to grazing throughout 2024, costing £310/t, or £62/cow over the year.

Silage is made in two cuts, both using 35 acres of land. Fertiliser used is three bags/acre of 25-5-5 for both cuts, which comes to 10.5t at £360/t.

A single bag per acre of CAN is applied after a second cut, with the 35 acres used for late season grazing, bringing total fertiliser purchased to 25t.

Silage contractor charges are set at £85/acre, plus £5/acre for fertiliser application, £5/acre for rolling, £15/acre for sprays and £40/acre for slurry. Assuming a combined yield of 18t/acre between the two cuts, silage costs come to £25/t.

Reseeding will see 10 acres of new grass established, costing £300/acre, or £50/head, across the 60 cows. Calves get 2kg/day of concentrate for 60 days prior to selling, which at £295/t costs £35/head.

Vet and medicine costs are set at £25/cow, with £50/cow for miscellaneous costs, such as mineral licks and fencing maintenance.

Eight in-calf heifers are purchased at £1,800/head, replacing culls valued at £1,500 (750kg at 200p/kg). Spread over the breeding herd, replacements cost £40/head.

The herd runs two stock bulls, each costing £3,500 and run five years before culling at £1,800. Assuming a £400/head annual maintenance cost, operating two bulls costs £25/cow each year.

Fixed costs at 125p/day from 10 April to 20 October come to £256/cow, this brings grazing season costs to £543/cow.

Drying off/winter housing

Cows are housed to dry off over 10 days on low-quality silage. From 1 November to 28 February, cows are fed 30kg/day of silage.

The 15 lightest calves are housed on 20 October to increase sale weight. Calves are weaned and fed 20kg/day of silage and 2kg/day of concentrate for a 90-day period.

Dosing and routine health treatments cost £25/cow, as do miscellaneous costs, such as pregnancy scanning, foot trimming, etc.

Fixed costs of £150/cow are included, bringing wintering costs to £319/cow.

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