Farm Ireland

Friday 15 December 2017

Finishing is a delicate operation


Gerry Giggins

With record beef prices and correspondingly high store and feed prices, caution is urged on all fronts for the coming winter for those contemplating filling their sheds.

The cycle of low autumn beef prices and low autumn store prices seems to be well and truly a thing of the past.

The autumn/spring 'price break' is what traditionally fuelled profitability in the winter finishing sector and with the exception of last winter, has not been a feature of the beef trade for many years.

Last winter's unexpected and welcome beef price rise of almost 18pc between September and April/May is unlikely to be replicated this winter. A realistic budgeted increase of 5-10pc is a more likely figure to be working off this year, but doing your figures is essential before purchasing any store cattle.

The sight of lean, "poorly done", "big for weight" stores is also very uncommon this autumn.

The excellent grass season we have just had has left the traditional store very scarce.

All buyers around the rings are encountering very fleshy animals that will take very little time to finish. The consequences of holding these animals on feed for the normal 100/140 day feeding period will result in possible over-fat carcasses which are of no benefit to the farmer or the processor.

Cattle need to be fed correctly when housed in order to reduce the time spent on feed. Projected average daily feed cost are over €3/hd in a lot of cases for mature animals, largely as a result of purchased beef blends being €60-80/t over the corresponding time last year. This will have a huge negative effect on the daily feed cost of the finishing animal.

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Finishers should make optimum use of home-grown cereals, when available, to cut costs and improve performance. I am regularly formulating finisher diets using high quality forage and cereals that are costing slightly in excess of €2 per head per day. Feeders cannot afford to exceed these types of costings and expect any margin from finishing this winter.


Improving feed conversion efficiency significantly reduces production costs.

This winter it is essential that animals achieve their maximum potential for every day that they are housed. Simple housing routines such as correct grouping of animals and not sickening animals by over feeding will greatly reduce days to slaughter and increase your margin. Almost every cattleyard has an abundance of grass silage this year. The silage analysis results I am seeing are also well above the average, so maximum use should be made of this resource.

Better nutrition improves live weight gain, grading, kill-out percentages and meat quality, as well as reducing fat, so all effort should be put into selecting the correct concentrate to match the forage being used and the type of animal being fed.

Greater co-operation between farmers and processing factories is essential for the survival of the winter-finishing sector. Perhaps now is the time that the main retailers should step in to help and show some 'social responsibility'.

There is very little sign of forward contracts being offered this autumn. Contracting on price is essential for the winter finishing sector but it can also have a negative effect. It can be used by finishers as an excuse to pay higher store prices than necessary, pay too much for feed and see them take their eye off the ball with regard to cattle performance.

Gerry Giggins is a livestock nutritionist and can be contacted on

Indo Farming