Efficiency – or being more efficient – is what we are told as an industry we have to be, to have a future in beef production.

As subsidy support is continually being withdrawn from direct production, being more efficient, or profitable without subsidy is the clear reality facing suckler cow production.

Above inflation input costs are pressing on everyone at present and this is forcing some deep conversations to be had as to the best way forward. Although we are not in control of our input costs, we are in control of our output and at the very least the desire to be more efficient.

To really deal with efficiency, you have to take a holistic approach to be able to make a difference. When looking at any system, you have to maximise your output in the shortest available time without incurring any additional input costs.

In simple terms, increasing the amount of the highest available value beef (either liveweight or deadweight) without incurring any additional labour, time or maintenance costs are some of the key ways forward.

Knowing your market is key, both the requirements and how to achieve full value for your produce is the ultimate goal on output for any business. How do we achieve this maximum output without adding additional cost and actually delivering a profitable model to build on?

When it comes to producing beef, achieving full target weight of our cattle at the youngest age, is not only the most important area to target from an economic point of view, but also key to reducing our carbon footprint and methane production.

Delivering improvements in livestock production means that there are three areas that need to come together – genetics, nutrition and management. Without all three parts in place, nothing works and money, and investment, is wasted.

Knowing your target weight for age is the obvious starting point. Then taking from birth to weaning, weaning to yearling and finally yearling through to finish are the three stages to focus on.

Every farm system is different and each will have its own strengths and weaknesses. However, simply looking at the maintenance requirements and costs of an animal per day, the larger and older the animal, the greater the costs are, just to stand still.

Looking at the performance of leading suckler producers, a clear picture comes out. Increasing weight at the youngest age is the most efficient and effective time to increase weight and met target earlier.

Read more: Beef can really have a green future

Using the best genetics, which can utilise and convert protein and energy into frame and muscle is paramount to this working. At this stage of the calf’s life, it will convert high quality concentrate at a rate of 3kg of concentrate for 1kg of liveweight gain, compared to finishing stage where typically 7-8kg of feed is needed to put on a kg of liveweight (see table).

Correct management is important to this success. Feeding concentrates at an early stage in the animal’s life must contribute to the correct frame development and balancing starch with higher protein is vital.

Then, learning from our leading suckler producers, where their management of heifers and in particular at calf to yearling stage, is done differently from males, ultimately has led to greater carcase weights without increasing days to slaughter or excess fat cover.

When input costs go to the scale they have, the natural feeling is to shut down and reduce the bills as quickly as possible. Where we can all relate to that sentiment, making sure your own system is improving its cost of kg of gain and that you have all three areas of the best and most progressive genetics, coupled with the a planned nutritional programme delivered by expert management and stockmanship sets out a better future.

One of our highest performing suckler farmers who followed this plan is John Gordon, Wellheads, Huntly (recently featured in The SF). He always said: “Never let your farm know your hard up!” It’s great advice and if you correctly invest in the long term, you will more than get the return.

Animal stage Feed conversion rate Liveweight gain Feed needed Cost per gain (£330 p/t)

Weaning stage 3:1 30kg live 90kg concentrates £29.70

Finishing stage 7.5:1 30kg liveweight 225kg concentrates £74.25