Weight is an extremely important performance indicator in suckler beef systems and in bull beef systems you depend on good weight gains to achieve under-16-month bull performance targets.

If poor weight gains are recorded, margins in an already financially tight system will be negative.

Factory sentiment towards bulls has changed over the last couple of years, with delays in killing bulls in 2018 and 2019 making farmers consider other options for male-born progeny on beef farms.

This led to a drop of 70,000 young bulls being killed in 2020, with further contraction expected in 2021. Table 1 outlines the target weights and weight gains in an under-16-month bulls system.

In terms of breed performance, the Simmentals are out in front, with the 12 QCD calves coming in at 443kg. There are six LM2116 bull weanlings weighing 428kg, 12 Fiston-sired calves currently weighing 418kg and nine Salers calves weighing 387kg.

Bulls gained 1.33kg/day up to 200 days and then gained just over 1kg/day from September to January. This is back a little on last year’s performance but over the last month bulls have grown well, which should stand to them during the finishing phase.

Their current daily liveweight gain for their lifetime is 1.18kg/day since birth. The average weight of the 44 bulls on 14 January 2021 was 421kg.

Weighing is critical

Weighing is critical at all stages of the production system to determine if corrective action is required.

This year’s weights are behind last year’s weights by about 25kg. Last year’s bulls went on higher meal feeding at an earlier stage.

Bulls have gained 1.18kg/day since birth and currently weigh 421kg

We found that bulls almost came to finish a little too quickly and this meant a lower carcase weight of 374kg/head.

The aim this year is to get bulls to 700kg at slaughter to maximise carcase value.

This has meant keeping weanlings on the grower ration for longer to grow more frame before the finishing phase.

Bulls have currently consumed 454kg of meal in their lifetime, with this expected to rise to 1.5t-1.6t of concentrates per bull.

Bull ration

The weanling ration the bulls are on comprises 16.5% protein and consists of rolled barley, beet pulp, maize distillers, flaked maize, soya bean meal and molasses. They are currently on 6kg/day along with ad-lib first-cut silage.

The bulls will be stepped up on to a finishing ration over the next month and will gradually move to ad-lib feeding. Bulls will then move on to straw as the roughage source during the ad-lib phase.

Other management

Bulls are housed on slats with rubber mats and were dosed in November, with a pour-on for lice and worms.

They were also clipped and have been vaccinated for pneumonia (BR, RSV and PI3) prior to weaning.

Next week we will take a look at the finishing budget and see if the bulls would make more money to sell live at current market prices or go through to finish.