Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

QPS should reward farmers who finish 400kg bulls at 16 months

At this time, winter finishers are making decisions as to what type of animals to purchase for finishing. Some of the key issues they should consider include what the prime beef markets are currently demanding, what animal type will give the best performance and what type of animal is best suited to their housing and feeds available.

There is a very clear message from the meat processing industry and Bord Bia that steer and heifer beef is the preferred option for Ireland's prime markets, particularly Britian.

Unfortunately, at current store prices and projected beef prices, the finishing of steers and heifers may not give the highest returns.

This is in contrast with the returns that can be achieved from producing young bulls from the suckler herd that meet all market specifications.

In the past year particularly, there has been a clear indication from the processing industry that there is slower demand for bull beef.

This may be largely due to the type of bull that has been presented for slaughter by many farmers in recent years.

A number of years ago it was very clear that the 400kg carcass bull with good covers of fat, slaughtered at less than 16 months of age, was what the market desired.


Also Read

Somehow, this specification has drifted significantly with the result that bulls are regularly being presented for slaughter at 20-24 months of age.

The carcass weight of these bulls can be up to 500kg. They are generally well-shaped (U+), but with inadequate fat covers. The main reasons for this happening include:

1.The lack of clear direction from the processing industry;

2.The tendency to graze bulls in their second year;

3.The perception that the heavier the final carcass the higher the profit.

There is clearly a demand for a certain number of continental type bulls that are slaughtered under 16 months of age with good covers of fat (3s at a minimum) and a carcass weight of 350-420kg.

There is an incorrect view that bulls cannot be finished at this age and specification. Many farmers are demonstrating this to be both possible and profitable.

The primary driver for efficient and profitable beef production is and always has been feed conversion efficiency (FCE). Irrespective of its breed, the younger the bull the better its FCE will be.

Improving FCE is crucial, especially with current feed prices being so high. Any improvement in FCE will not alone reduce the total amount of feed used to finish an animal, but is also the main driver of profitability.

The choice of feeds used will also have an effect on feed efficiency.

A properly functioning rumen i.e, rumen at correct pH, will convert feed to energy that will be absorbed much more efficiently by the animal and converted to lean meat/muscle.

In bull beef systems, the primary aim is to use feeds that can maximise the energy input. Feeds such as maize grain, molasses and native cereals all meet these requirements.

Weanling bulls that are purchased or home reared should initially be put on a growing ration.

During this period, the protein content of the overall ration should be at 15-16pc.

This is not to be confused with the protein content of the concentrate, which will be determined by the type of forage being fed. Fior example, if maize/wholecrop are being used you may need a 20pc protein balancer to give an overall protein content of 15pc in the diet.

Lower protein contents at this stage will lead to poorer frame development and less carcass weight at finish.


The growing stage should be approximately 100 days, with an expected daily live weight gain of 1.2kg minimum. When the animals reach 480-500kg, the majority of the frame should be developed and this is the time to move onto the finishing stage.

The finishing stage should be between 100-120 days and gains of up to 1.8-2kg/day can be achieved with correct feed and correct management.

As the animals reach sexual maturity, there will be a sudden visual rise in improvement in muscling, this is the effect of the natural hormones.

The greatest incentive that the processing industry could give to the farmers that are producing these high quality bulls would be to pay for these animals on the QPS grid.

This will dramatically discourage the type of animals that they say they don't require while also encouraging greater efficiency in the production system and greater profitability for the finishers.

Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist. Email:

Irish Independent