Cost care and cutting calving time can create a rapid route to better beef businesses


Productivity and returns on Welsh beef farms can both be boosted by actions to further reduce calving intervals and better manage costs, new data suggests.

Posted on Apr 27 ,00:21

Cost care and cutting calving time can create a rapid route to better beef businesses

The average calving interval for beef dams in Wales was 419 days for 2023, almost four days shorter than 2022’s average and seven days shorter than 2013’s figure, according to the latest data from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS), which features in April’s Market Bulletin from Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).

"Things are improving but, despite the progress seen over the last decade, the BCMS research indicates the majority of farms will need to do quite a bit more if they are to reach the sought-after 365-day ‘between calvings” target", said Glesni Phillips HCC’s Intelligence, Analysis and Business Insight Executive.

"And, similarly, more can be done to reduce costs. Our latest Farm Business Survey suggests that there is a huge gap between the top third of farms and the bottom third but, with change, producers really can find a big improvement in returns".

Glesni said that reproductive efficiency is not only fundamental for profitability and productivity but can also support a reduction in the herd GHG emission levels.

"Herd performance indicators, along with estimates on cost of production, are key for providing insight into the productivity and efficiency of the suckler herd in Wales. April’s Market Bulletin takes a long look at the BCMS and FBS data to extract information that can help beef farmers become more profitable and more efficient", she said.

The latest issue pinpoints potential obstacles to achieving these goals. It reasons that insufficient growth rates or unmanaged fertility within herds may cause longer calving intervals, whereas shorter intervals would, in turn, improve herd profitability by maximising the number of calves possible in a dam’s lifetime.

"The main output from a beef suckler herd is obviously the suckled calf and therefore good cow management is absolutely the key to optimizing herd fertility in order to produce a healthy suckler calf each year. By improving the reproductive efficiency of the suckler herd, each farmer would also help to manage on farm costs and the overall profitability of the business", said Glesni.

Market Bulletin estimates the average age at first calving can also impact the suckler herd’s reproductive efficiency. In 2023, the average age at first calving for beef dams in Wales stood at 975 days (or 32.1 months). "This is a vast improvement when compared to 2022- some 18 days younger- and when compared to the average age of 1,009 days recorded for 2013- but leaves some room for improvement to reach the industry target of calving nearer to 24 months (or 730 days)", said Glesni.

Market Bulletin reviews Farm Business Survey’s annual cost of production figures. The latest data reveals that the top third performing herds had an overall cost of 139.2p/kg and produced more kilograms per cow than the average performing herds at 307kg. The top third performing herds recorded slightly lower costs for both variable and fixed costs, which then led to an overall difference of 180.0p/kg between the top and bottom third performing herds in terms of total costs.

"As the market returns were similar for all three categories of performers, this does clearly suggest that the focus should be on managing costs on farm in order to maximize the profitability of suckler herds in Wales", said Glesni.

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