The face of the beef industry is changing.

With finishers coming under pressure, both in terms of carcase weight limits and environmental performance, the type and age of cattle that many specialist finishers are buying is changing.

This can be seen clearly in market reports from store sales, younger cattle with a good weight for age command a significant premium over older cattle, particularly those older cattle that have been weathered and aren’t well fleshed.

In the past, storing cattle through the winter was common place, with youngstock being coasted through the winter on a cheap maintenance ration, with producers accepting lower liveweight gains in the winter and made use of compensatory growth through the summer before selling as a forward stores.

With the industry changing, it is important to have a look at your system and make sure that what you do makes the most of the resources you have available, and what you are trying to achieve.

None of us are running cattle just because we like the look of them, they are there to make money. We should be focussing on maximising profit rather than maximising output per head.

The biggest cost to a suckler system is the winter. Do you know how much it costs to get a suckled calf through the winter, it’s different on every farm?

It doesn’t take long to calculate the cost of your winter and for this purpose, you don’t need to cost it down to the nearest penny.

You just need to ask yourself a few key questions. How many kgs of concentrate will calves eat through the winter? How much silage? What about vet and med costs? And although none of us properly value it, how much time will you spend tending to them?

Once you have a reasonable understanding of the costs you are likely to incur, next you have to try and put a value on your calf crop. If you have weigh scales, each calf can be valued based on its on-farm weight and a best guess of its price per kg. Your market representative will also be great help to you with this.

Once you have these two numbers, add the sale value and the wintering costs together and you will get an indication of what your cattle need to make to break even.

If that number is less than what you normally average for stores in the spring then you can be reasonably sure that it makes economic sense to keep your calves and put some value on them.

However, for some the calculation will result in a higher figure, this would suggest that wintering your calves is likely to be a cost to your business and you would be better off if you sell calves sooner rather than later.

The reality is that it is unlikely that your full calf crop would be fit to sell as suckled calves but it’s not all or nothing, you could sell a few now and winter the rest.

Selling the top end of your calves will reduce the pressure on your shed through the winter and potentially improve the performance of the remaining calves. Fewer calves in the shed means also less disease pressure and so less competition at the feed fence.

What shape Brexit takes still remains to be seen and making plans for the spring is very difficult at the best of times but in these exceptional times, it is even more difficult to know what to do.

What we do know is that the calf trade is very strong this year, hopefully this continues into the spring but as the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.