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Making Youngstock Rearing Stack Up

Making Youngstock Rearing Stack Up
By Mark Price 3 months ago

The cost of growing beef for finishing, the store cattle market or for rearing dairy replacement heifers, can put huge financial pressure on your business. Whatever system employed, realising a sustainable profit once all costs are considered can be challenging. With increasing fixed costs, an ever-uncertain political landscape and opportunity cost of the assets used, it is as important as ever that operators remain as efficient as possible to generate profit.

The System

It is crucial that the right system is in place for the cattle and facilities available; from an end market point of view but also nutritionally. Once weaned, the genetic potential of the animal will play a significant role in its ability to convert feed to meat and if fed the wrong type of diet, the cattle will grow, but often not profitably, with carcasses too small or too old to get the most from the market. Tweaking nutrition to the breed and the end market, it is possible to generate the most margin for from the system maximising throughput.

Growth rates

In almost every situation, maximising growth rates makes the most economic sense. The ability to capture gains from epigenetics and improved animal health from elevated levels of nutrition are well documented. Simply from a pure return on investment stance, maximising growth rates is a way to increase profitability. Whether rearing dairy replacements, or rearing to finish, the faster the animal gets to the point of generating income for your business, the more chance it has of realising profit.

A study carried out by the Royal Veterinary College concluded a saving of £169/head can be made on heifers if they calve two months earlier, where there is no compromise in heifer weights at first calving. Therefore, investing a portion of that £169/head in infrastructure or additional feed to realise this gain will easily show returns.

In beef systems, growth rates need to be monitored and maximised within the system to get the most return. By reducing the time it takes to rear each animal to a point of finishing, throughput can be maximised and fixed costs can be diluted by more units of output. Similar to dairy replacements, this may mean investment in feed to realise faster growth rates

Forage Quality

Increasing the quality of forage used in youngstock rearing systems will mean more can be fed to achieve the desired growth rates, without increasing costs significantly. Improving the quality of youngstock silage can often be hard, as its often designated to them due to its poorer quality, but if the silage won’t achieve the desired milk yield in dairy cows, it won’t achieve target growth rates as easily for youngstock. Opting for shorter cutting intervals (4-5 weeks), getting the crop dry (over 30%DM) and well consolidated in the clamp or in bales are the main areas to focus on. By increasing the quality of grass silage by 1 unit of ME, there is potential to increase daily liveweight gain by up to 200g, which could add up to cattle meeting target weight months earlier.

Monitor Performance

Weighing cattle is the ultimate way to identify weaknesses in youngstock rearing systems. By periodically monitoring calf and cattle weights, decisions can be made on weaker individuals and groups. From this, improvements can be made accordingly. It also gives the chance to improve accuracy of any vaccinations or treatments used, along with comparisons between breeds or identify where cost savings can be made.

Using the right genetics for the system along with balanced nutrition, forms the foundation of profitable youngstock rearing. Maximising growth rates through good animal health and stockmanship, along with performance monitoring will help realise the potential from youngstock rearing systems and realise as much profit as possible.