How will the rise in input prices impact on the cost of keeping a suckler cow in the year ahead?
Take an example farm carrying 60 spring-calving continental cows on reasonably productive land under good management.
Cows are mainly February- and March-calving. For simplicity, the majority of calves are sold as weanlings in October with 15 lighter calves housed for 90 days to increase sale weight.
The herd operates an “all-in, all out” system with in-calf heifers purchased to replace cull cows.
The example costings use typical input prices for 2021 with a comparison made for 2022 assuming the same level of inputs are purchased, but at revised prices.
Fixed costs are included in the example to cover expenses like insurance, diesel, machinery repairs, etc. Fixed costs are set at £365/cow for 2021, but are inflated by 25% for 2022.
Calving to turnout
With cows generally calving over February and March, the average date of birth is set as 1 March to reflect a midway point.
Turnout to grass is typically around 10 April so, on average, cows remain housed for approximately 40 days post-calving.
During this period, cows are fed 45kg/day of good-quality silage and 2kg/day of a 16% protein ration.
For spring 2022, silage fed to cows is costed at £25/t and includes a contractor charge. This reflects CAN purchased last year at £240/t and first-cut silage made in June 2021 fed to cows during spring 2022.
Concentrate costs are set at £285/t in spring 2022 with one round bale of straw per cow factored in for bedding calving boxes and creep pens.
Straw costs £25/bale to reflect higher prices during last summer’s harvest. Vet costs are unchanged year on year, but fixed costs are up 25%.
For the post-calving housing period, input costs in 2022 come to £163/cow, up from £114 in 2021.
Cows are grazed from 10 April to 20 October when calves are sold during autumn weanling sales.
Stocking rate is one cow and calf per acre with four bags/acre of CAN spread in 2021 and nitrogen averaging £240/t.
Assuming fertiliser rates remain constant in 2022, but nitrogen averages £600/t, grazing costs rise by £72/cow to £120.
A reseeding cost is also factored in with 10 acres of new grass established annually at £200/acre.
Calves get 2kg/day of concentrate for 60 days prior to selling. It is assumed that ration price rises to £300/t for summer 2022.
Vet and medicines cost £25/cow with £50/cow factored in for miscellaneous costs such as mineral licks and fencing maintenance.
Eight in-calf heifers are purchased annually at £1,600/head, with a cull value of £1,300 on cows (700kg at 185p/kg) leaving the herd. The net cost of replacements across 50 cows is £48/cow.
Two stock bulls purchased at £3,500 and culled after five years at £1,500 comes to an annual service cost of £13/cow. Factoring in £400/year to feed and maintain each bull, total breeding costs come to £26/cow.
Drying off and winter housing
Cows are dried off over 10 days and fed low-quality silage made from surplus grazing that had fully headed out. From 1 November to 28 February, cows are fed 30kg/day of silage. As fertiliser price is significantly higher in 2022, silage costs are increased to £30/t.
The 15 lightest calves are housed for 90 days to increase sale weight and fed 20kg/day of silage plus 2kg/day of concentrate during this period. Vet and medicines are included at £25/cow along with £25/cow for miscellaneous for tasks like scanning, etc.
Fixed costs for winter 2022 are again inflated by 25% to £150/cow. Total wintering costs increases by £54 to £337/cow in 2022.
Cost of keeping the cow
Based on the example herd, the cost of keeping the cow increases from £865 in 2021 to £1,099 for 2022.
Reducing fertiliser to three bags/acre on grazing ground and holding off on reseeding this year will lower the cost of keeping the cow by £63/head.
Off-loading all calves in autumn saves £39/cow for the example herd. However, sale price may be significantly lower due to lighter sale weight in October compared to February.
If the farm has to buy its full complement of CAN for grazing at £900/t, four bags/acre will add another £60/cow to grazing costs.
Ultimately, the exercise highlights the challenge that farmers face in 2022 to cover production costs. Even with reduced inputs, there is no room for under-performing stock this year.