There is no doubt the vast majority of farmers have significantly reduced their costs of production over the years, but they can still improve their levels of efficiency by analysing their feeds and weighing their animals on a more regular basis.

Admitting there is no one quick fix solution for those looking to boost productivity and efficiency, when there are so many different types of farms and livestock systems, Gavin Hill, senior beef specialist at SRUC, told The Scottish Farmer that additional weighing of cattle would allow businesses to monitor performance regularly to allow changes if needed, to be made. This he said is particularly crucial when farms are getting well through their own feed supplies and low levels of silage/hay are available to purchase. Monitoring actual feed supplies available also allows farmers to sell off some animals should there not be enough available to see them through the winter/spring.

"A growing number of farmers are continuing to analyse silage and hay crops and calculate rations to feed stock more accurately and manage forage levels better. The excellent forages made last year, are also enabling farmers to reduce levels fed due to the higher dry matter of such feeds."

He also urged farmers not to overfeed breeding cows thereby maximising amounts that can be held back in pits/stacks for calving time and encouraged producers to weigh their animals on a more regular basis.

"Farmers can't afford not to maximise daily liveweight gains in cattle. Ideally, store cattle should be weighed every couple of months to see if they are performing to the ration given and the target weight gain required. It is not just under feeding, we can often over feed. With the current forage quality many will not need what may have been fed in previous years."

He said waiting too late before animals are weighed is costly as some will not only have cost more than they should, they'll also have consumed valuable concentrate and forages that are already a good £40-£50 per tonne up on the year, which could have been better utilised elsewhere.

This is particularly crucial when finishing costs have increased 15p per deadweight kg per year over the past three years, increasing the cost of producing a 380kg beef carcase by £60 each year, while the actual price received each year for finishing cattle has remained constant.

However, despite these losses and the continuing challenges surrounding Brexit, climate change, the anti red meat brigade and future fodder supplies, he said beef farmers remain relatively upbeat, but are aware that much uncertainty still exists and changes may be needed.

"Farmers are getting a hold of what they can control, and while prices are back, the current store cattle trade is stronger than predicted and this has to be seen as positive.

"There are also a number of beef farmers showing real commitment to the industry with a 5-10% increase in the number of slatted sheds being constructed and a growing number of younger producers looking to produce beef more efficiently. What we do see is more larger units where the aim is to spread the overheads/fixed costs out more per livestock unit – 50% of the breeding herd in Scotland is now on 14% of our holdings," he said.

Mr Hill also stressed that having a profitable beef operation relies on a number of factors and not just the breed employed.

"There is a place for every breed and every cross depending on the system and environment farmed. Pushing heifers to calve at two years of age will always outperform those calving at three on paper, but it doesn't suit everyone. Those with certain native, maternal breeds or on a hill unit could be better calved at three.

"There are many different breeds within our farms and in turn a range of store cattle, with a place for all of them if chosen correctly. Continentals are suited to being finished intensively at a high cost per day but at a younger age, while the more maternal types which utilise grass more, and so cost less per day also have a place."

And commenting on the forth coming bull sales, he urged those looking to buy a bull to consider Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and what actual figures they are looking for to match up with their cows at home.

"Increasing numbers of buyers place importance on the Calving Ease EBV, describing how easily a bull’s calves should be born, but what a bull with poor calving figures is saying is: “Warning! I have the ability to cause you problems if you do not manage your cows correctly.” How easily a cow will calve is due approximately 75% to management and 25% to genetics," said Mr Hill.

"We often hear of the bull that was rated poorly for calving and yet never gave any problems. The EBV for calving ease may be correct but it could be because he was given the right cows, managed correctly. Autumn herds can be difficult to manage through the late summer as they can be in very good condition, but farmers know the combination of overfat cows with bulls that have poor calving ease figures will result in difficult calvings."

He also added that continually selecting for easy calving bulls could lead to smaller heifers being born that may not be easy calving themselves if used for breeding.

This however, can be counteracted by considering other EBVs as well and not just those for calving. For example, selecting for 400-day weight along with ease of calving can give easily born calves that will grow fast and produce good sized calves to sell for meat or replacement heifers.