Greater feed efficiency will soften carcase weight limit blow

Increasing feed efficiency to reduce days to finish will help reduce total feed costs and maintain margins in the light of moves by beef processors to set a lower cap on carcass weights, according to David Bonsall from UFAC UK.

Mr Bonsall says there is pressure from processors and retailers to reduce carcase weight to optimise the value of the carcase in the food chain.

“Supermarkets are looking for steaks at around £5 on the shelf which has seen the average size of a steak drop to 200g,” Mr Bonsall comments.  “If they have to trim steaks down they lose around £11/kg on the offcuts.  The optimum carcase to supply a suitably sized loin is 280-350kg.

“But the industry is producing larger animals. According to AHDB, around 35% of carcasses are currently over 380kg.  This helps explain why some processors are penalising heavier animals.”

Mr Bonsall says that two major processors in Scotland, Scotbeef and ABP Perth, have announced a lower cap for carcases, down from 420kg to 400kg.  Each overweight kilo will be price penalised in a drive for smaller slaughter weights. AHDB figures suggest that if all processors followed their lead, one in five carcases would currently be overweight and penalised.

“This represents a major challenge for producers,” Mr Bonsall continues.  “On many beef units the strategy has been to produce a larger animal in a drive to maximise income.  They target producing to the highest weight possible, but with the target weight declining and more penalties being applied it is time to reconsider the strategy for beef finishing.

“Rather than driving for a bigger animal, the focus should be on increasing feed efficiency to get them growing quicker to increase throughput.  Key to this is taking a close look at the diet.”

Mr Bonsall says that fine-tuning the diet can have a big impact on growth rates and feed conversion.  In particular he recommends increasing the inclusion rate of fats in beef diets and cutting back on cereals.

The recommended inclusion rate of fat in growing diets is up to 5% but most diets are closer to 3%.  In finishing diets a typical inclusion is also 3% fat but diets can safely include over 5%.

“By replacing barley with a fat supplement you can increase the energy density of the ration to promote faster growth with little impact on cost,” Mr Bonsall continues.  “Feeding the correct blend of rumen protected fatty acids improves performance whilst maintaining rumen health.”

“A supplement like UFAC Megabeef, containing a range of rumen protected C18 and long chain marine sourced omega 3 fatty acids will improve feed conversion, encourage faster growth, enhance meat quality and ensure a robust immune system for better health.”

He says replacing 300g of barley with 300g of Megabeef in the growing diet from 80-350kg will increase DLWG by 10% to 1.1kg/day.  The impact is that these cattle would reach 350kg 25 days quicker.

“In the finishing ration we can substitute 500g Megabeef for 500g barley and increase DLWG by 100g/day.  Targeting a slaughter weigh of 640kg to give a 384kg carcass, they will finish 12 days sooner, giving a total saving from 80-640kg of 37 days, allowing a 9% increase in throughput.

“Feeding optimum fatty acids also improve cascase classification and can increase price per kilo.

“If the pressure is going to be on producing lighter carcasses, then the focus has to switch to producing as efficiently as possible.  Optimising fatty acid content in the ration is a proven way to achieve this.”

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.