Beef value chain - fast finishing

17 May 2017

Maximising growth rates is critical to driving on-farm efficiencies within a beef value chain.

Speaking at a Beef + Lamb New Zealand beef-focused field day in North Canterbury, farm consultant Jamie Gordon says behind the farm-gate, an efficient beef value chain requires a low-cost, high fertility cow and progeny that grow consistently well from birth to slaughter.

“Growth from birth is important and has the largest impact on the value chain – provided fertility is maintained.”

He believes the future beef value chain needs to aim for 90-95% weaning and post-weaning growth rates of over 1kg per day through until slaughter. But this will require the best genetics and management.

Just increasing post-weaning growth rates from 0.57 to 0.71kg/day to achieve a 300kg carcase will save $166 per head in feed costs (valuing feed at $0.16/kg DM) which equates to $0.55/kg carcase.

Gordon believes there are two periods where opportunities to maximise growth rates are commonly missed, these are in early spring and in late January and February.

In early spring, animals are physiologically geared to grow really fast and while feed quality is never a problem at that time of year, feed quantity is often an issue.

Management strategies such as building pasture covers over autumn and winter will mean animals have sufficient feed to realise their spring growth potential.

“There are huge opportunities in that spring period.”

The next feed “hole” can occur in late summer and autumn when feed quality as well as quantity can be a problem.

Using EBVs

Genetics is the other half of the beef efficiency equation and Gordon urges commercial breeders to make use of Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) when selecting bulls.

“They work and have proven their worth in livestock breeding programmes worldwide.”

EBVs enable a comparison to be made of the genetic potential of the breeding parents and eliminates the environmental differences between seed-stock suppliers.

A case study carried out on a large-scale beef finisher – finishing 1000 calves from 35 different lines – highlights the difference genetics make.

The top quartile of calves grew at 1.04kg/day over eight months while the bottom quartile – on exactly the same feed – grew at 0.83kg/day.

This meant the difference in returns between the top and bottom quartile was $150/head and this did not include the premium paid for early spring beef.

A competitive supply chain

While there has been a focus on finishing beef cattle before their second winter, Gordon points out that a 225kg calf in April, would need to grow at 0.97kg/day to reach a 300kgCW by the following March. 

This would require the right mix of genetics and feeding- but it would make beef finishing competitive with other land uses.

Gordon says for the beef industry to be competitive, it needs to be competitive right across the value chain.

This means getting the right product to the right customers at the right time. It also requires both processing and on-farm efficiencies.

Beef cow efficiency must be measured through until slaughter – not just at calf weaning.To be competitive, Gordon believes the beef industry needs to source the best genetics regardless of whether they exist in New Zealand or need to be imported.

Find out more

Beef + Lamb New Zealand runs Better Beef Breeding workshops throughout the country to help commercial breeders select the most suitable genetics for their businesses. Check our events calendar for workshops near you or contact your regional B+LNZ extension manager for more information.

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