Why is grass so under-utilised in the beef industry?

Friday 24 July 2015
Why is grass so under-utilised in the beef industry?

The potential for beef cattle to achieve high growth off grass and grazed forages is well known but rarely achieved on British farms. Maintaining quality and quantity going into the summer should be a key focus area, as should earlier turnout and extended grazing. Unlike other ruminant sectors, very few beef producers measure and monitor grass growth.


The recent 2014 Stocktake commissioned by Eblex indicated that the average conventional suckler herd was losing -£260.02 per cow put to the bull and that the average beef finishing animal over 16 months of age made a loss of -£131.69 per animal. It is quite clear that the average producer is very reliant on subsidy to make money. Furthermore the average live weight gain for the finishing animal over 16 months was 0.8kg/day with the number of days grazed at grass only standing at 147 days. The conventional suckler cow was grazed for a longer period of 217 days but performance in terms of weight weaned per hectare only stood at 241kg. It is very clear that the introduction of efficient grazing systems can and will reduce the costs of production and increase the kg of live weight produced per hectare.


By implementing four main points it is possible for the beef farmer to significantly progress down the grazing route. These points are:


  1. Identify soil nutrient levels by soil sampling to develop a nutrient plan to correct any deficiencies
  2. The use of electric fencing to reduce field size
  3. The supply of water and centrally locating troughs in all grazing fields
  4. The use of rotational grazing, grass measurements and forage budgets.


If beef farmers implement the four points above there are three main areas where farmers will financially benefit, these are:


  1. The reduction of the number of days cattle are housed by early spring turnout and extended grazing in the autumn to allow for a four month winter. For every extra day a suckler cow or growing animal is out at grass a saving of up to 80 pence a day will be made, over a 1 month period this will amount to a saving of £24/cow or £2,400 over a 100 cow suckler herd.
  2. A possible increase in stocking rate of 25% through increased grass growth and better utilisation of grass. If stocking rates can be increased by 20% from a set stocking system based on the current average weaning weight of 241kg per forage ha for a conventional suckler cow, this would equate to an increased weaning weight per ha of 48.20kg. Based on a calf sale price of £2.14 /kg this would equate to an increased output of £103.15 per ha or £10,315 over a 100 hectare farm.
  3. An increase in growth rates from growing higher quality grazed grass and silage. 10% increase in growth rates over a 12 month period for cattle finishing over 16 months of age would equate to an increase of 29.2kg per animal or a value of £62.78 per animal based on a sale price of £2.15/ kg


As grassland management improves overtime the system will continue to reduce costs and labour requirements while increasing output. The above points are an excellent start to helping the beef industry improve its profitability. 

Author: Marc Jones


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