By Lesley Wylie,

SAC beef consultant

With a challenging 12-18 months behind us of constant downward price pressure on finished cattle prices, there are a few areas to consider trying to retain some control.

Know your market:

Have a plan for the cattle you have purchased or bred?

What do you want them to achieve?

When do you want to sell them?

What finished weight are you aiming for?

The end price is relatively fixed, but if you can avoid unnecessary penalties for having over/under finished cattle or overweight cattle, you can, to a certain extent, maximise the price you will get.

When looking at the above it’s best to have an open line of communication with potential buyers, to ensure you understand the various price and penalty structures in place for each processor. This will also give you an insight into any perceived waiting times for cattle to go to slaughter, and allow you to keep up to date with price movements.

Regular weighing of cattle, will give you a great insight into how the cattle are performing on your chosen ration, and allow you to maximise the weight of the animal without risking overweight penalties (assuming you know the approximate kill out percentage of the type of cattle you are working with). It also allows you to identify the cattle that are standing still, these cattle would be better sold if their weight gain has slowed down if they are near the target weight.

When buying cattle this spring (including the ones already purchased) consider their weights and condition before putting out to grass. Although it seems that once it dries up the grass looks to be in plentiful supply and is a cheaper source of feed. There will be cattle bought that will not be suitable for grazing, these include store cattle 450-500kg.

Depending on the breed – continentals of this weight range if put to grass they will tend to grow too big a frame to finish 400kg deadweight unless they are to be fed heavily at grass, in which case they would be better in the shed with the rain off their backs.

Native breeds 450-500kg may do well at grass if the grass quality is there. Some rotational grazing programmes boast great weight gains and good finishing of natives in mid to late summer straight off the grass with little, if any additional feeding.

For both natives and continental stores, be mindful of the condition of the cattle before putting out to grass, if they have been well fed through the winter and are carrying a lot of flesh they will most likely lose condition when put out to grazing and will have little or no compensatory growth and you will require to put this lost condition back on them at housing time.

These fleshier types would be best kept in the house and continued on with a good ration to allow them to finish in the summer out of the house if feed and straw availability allows. This removes the risk of an unwanted growth check and potentially allows these cattle to be finished mid to late summer when finished cattle numbers are tighter and prices tend to be slightly better.

2020 calves

For breeder finishers that produce finished bulls now is the time to consider what you are doing with the calves on the ground for sale in 2021.

If you are happy with your system and can achieve the finish required on these bulls in the 12-16-month timescale, within the weight limits, then by all means continue, as it is obviously working for your business.

However, if you are finding it challenging to get bulls to finish under the weight limits (which tend to be 380-400kgdw depending on your processor) it may be worth looking at an alternative finishing system for these bulls.

Many producers, who historically finished their males entire, have for the last few years cut the calves but fed the steers on an intensive diet very similar to bulls thereby providing more options of when and who to sell to whilst also achieving good weight gains but not risking going overweight. They have achieved similar grades without the risk of a lower base price just because they are bulls.

The seeds of many summer time issues are sown in the spring, so now is the time to make a plan for your cattle to make sure that they make the grade for sale later in the year.