This year has seen strong prices for cattle, both store and finished, but please be aware of the increasing input prices for these enterprises and understand your margins for your own enterprises.

There are some ways to manage the level of inputs to your system, which should not hinder production:

Spring-calving cows

With the late flush of autumn grass due to the favourable weather, spring-calving cows may be in good condition in the lead-up to housing. Before housing, it is important to assess their body condition to identify and split out the individuals that may need to be treated separately, primarily in-calf heifers and first calvers.

Separating cows based on their nutritional needs allows for targeted feeding strategies, which can reduce overall feed costs of the herd during the winter.

It may be an option to keep the calves on the fitter cows longer to help take some of the condition off the cows and also reduce the demand for additional feed from the calves.

Currently many inputs, including straw and feed, are at a premium. PD or scan early to allow you to sell culls and ensure that only productive breeding stock are kept through what could be an expensive winter.

Silage analysis and forage budgeting

Analysing your silage gives you an understanding of its nutritional qualities (dry matter, energy and protein), which can then be balanced with the animals’ requirements. When grain and inputs are at a premium, understanding the quality of your silage is essential, to potentially reduce the cost of imported feeds to the farm.

As well as understanding the quality of your silage, it is essential to know the quantity in the pit or bales. This can be calculated quite simply. Please refer to the following for a simple guide to help you calculate how much is in your pit or bales:

Finishing cattle

With larger store sales and weaned calf sales taking place, it is important to understand your costs on these finishing cattle. No two farms are the same, so do your own budget, consider the type of stock you are buying and the market outlook for those cattle, whether you are selling them in three months or 15 months’ time.

We have seen the finished price remain above 400p/kg since March so it is easier to estimate a finished price on the shorter keep cattle but it is more of a challenge 15 months down the line. Both store prices and deadweight prices have increased by around 12% on the year, meaning that margins have not improved, even with the better end price, and so feed prices will hit margins considerably this winter.

Reviewing the performance of cattle previously bought, and making purchasing decisions based on that, will help to avoid cattle that do not perform on your system – often the cheaper cattle are not the most profitable.

Getting bought-in cattle off to a healthy and fast start can help to cut costs and minimise the risk of losses. Have discussions with your vet about vaccination programmes and check with the sellers what vaccinations the cattle have had prior to sale.

Strong demand for beef and reduced kill numbers this year have allowed for flexibility in weight limits at the processors. Careful consideration of marketing options, alongside reviewing the trade-off between the cost of weight gain, changes in processor specifications and the price they are willing to pay for those heavier cattle, need to be continually monitored to ensure that the extra weight is worth it.

Whilst we don’t know how long this coming winter will last or what the long-term outlook on prices is, we should know our costs and our inputs needed.

With the prices at their current levels, if your feed resources look to be short of what you need to see everything through the winter, now may be the time to prioritise stock and sell others as most stock will still be in reasonable condition at this time of year. This will also help with the cashflow going into the winter.