Robin Talbot: 'Processors need to take some share of the risk involved in this volatile beef business'
The current difficulties in the beef sector have been well documented at this stage. But, if we are to avoid talking ourselves out of business, we have to be positive and come up with new ideas.
One thing is certain, both ourselves and the beef processing industry need to have a good hard look at how we do business with one another.
One place where I believe we could start is the development of risk sharing arrangements.
It takes approximately 100-120 days of intensive feeding to finish most animals.
So I don't think it would be unreasonable for the factories to be able to quote a minimum base - not a contract - price before the final finishing period starts.
For the period, a farmer knows fairly certainly what his feed costs will be and what his weight gain will be; so if he knew what his minimum base price was going to be, he could then make a decision whether to proceed to finish stock.
Maybe it might bring some stability and provide a basis to move forward in a healthier relationship.
I saw a variation of this system in operation in America; some people put their stock into feedlots, where the feed costs were locked in, on the day they arrived, as was the sale price.
The industry also has to change; the price can no longer be dictated by the number of out-of-spec cattle in the lairage. By that I mean that if someone looks for a quote for in-spec cattle, it should be related to what that particular market is returning.
One thing is certain, while beef farmers may suck up one disastrous year; they won't be able to take a second one back-to-back.
One other critical point: if there is any hope of putting some kind of a risk sharing arrangement in place, all farm organisations need to put their differences aside for once and work together.
Meanwhile, on the farm, most of the calves have been weaned at this stage. It was obvious from looking at them that they have done very well this spring.
But, as the saying goes, you can't manage what you don't measure, so we weighed all the bull calves that were on the home farm.
They came in at an average of 452kg. The computer told me that the average age of the group was 299 days. That gives them an average daily gain from birth of just over 1.3kg/day.
It is also important to emphasise that these calves got no meal at grass and we estimate that they have eaten about 120kg per head of calf ration while they were in the shed over the winter.
Our plan for them for the next couple of months is to keep quality fresh grass in front of them. We won't ask them to graze out any paddocks; we will let the dry cows in behind them to do that.
Hopefully, by the time we need to make a decision on finishing them, we will have more clarity on where we stand.
This week, our focus turns to preparing for calving.
So, all the cows and in-calf heifers will get their IBR booster and also a shot of Rotovac K-99.
We have our pit of dry, low DM, silage (hopefully mid to low sixties) made. As soon as we sort all the cows by calving date, we will start off the heifers and the first of the cows on our usual night-time feeding regime. Hopefully it will work as well as every other year, with most of the cows calving during the day.
Also, when sorting the cows by calving date, we will also draft out any cows that need their feet attended to. Hopefully, there are not too many.
With calving for the heifers kicking off around July 20 and the cows from August 1, we need to start looking at spreading fertiliser and building up covers of grass for the freshly calved.
We will probably give most fields a run of the disc mower, just to clean off any excess stemmy grass that might be about, to ensure a nice clean fresh pasture for the cows and new-born calves.
One job that we have been paying particular attention to this year is power-washing the slatted house.
A few of the last year's later-calving cows developed mortellaro and they have since been culled.
But, of course, a few of their calves developed it as well, so we want to make sure that there is no carryover of infection in the slatted shed.
We are also going to make a slight change in the shed.
There are drinking bowls along the front. But some of them are starting to leak. Also, bulls tend to love splashing water out onto the feed, which can make a bit of a mess.
So we are going to install bigger drinking troughs on the back walls.
I always had a nagging doubt whether our water supply was good enough anyway for animals on high levels of ration. So hopefully that will no longer be a concern.
All winter corn has got its' final sprays. Next machine into the field will be the combine. Crops are looking well, so let's hope for a bumper harvest.
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