Poorly targeted nutrition risks beef penalties of up to £200/head

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Hung beef carcases image

According to the latest figures available from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), 45% of nearly 448,00 prime beef carcasses sampled failed to meet target specification. It represents an avoidable loss to the individual beef finisher that could add up to £200/head, and which even at conservative estimates might total £39 million* or more across the 1.97 million prime cattle slaughtered in the UK last year.

“Some processors have now increased the maximum penalties for out-of-specification carcases to 40-50p/kg dead carcase weight (DCW),” states KW nutritionist Samuel Wellock. “That can knock £200/head off the sale price for a 400kg continental carcase, or reduce the value of a typical native breed by £150/head.

“More importantly, it’s a loss that can largely be avoided if feed choice and rations are properly matched to breed and growth targets.”

Prime carcase data

The AHDB figures show that only 55% of those sampled fell within conformation classes E to R and fat scores 1 to 4L (figure 1). Of the carcases outside this specification, 9% were overfat, 4% were overfat with poor conformation, and a substantial 32% were lean but with poor conformation.

Carcase specification Graph
Figure 1 – Carcase conformation analysis of 447,994 prime beef carcases (Source: AHDB, 2015)

“Gathering and reviewing data on current performance is critical, as this will highlight which cattle are consistently grading within processor specification and providing the highest return,” Mr Wellock continues.

“Use this information to work out the breed type, sex, age at slaughter and processor best suited to the current production system. Then take a fresh look at cattle nutrient requirements, feed choice and ration formulation, and make the changes needed to better meet those processor targets.”

Breed nutrient requirements

According to Mr Wellock, one factor often overlooked is the considerable difference between continental and native breeds in the nutrients required for effective finishing (table 1). Cattle will also finish poorly if feed cost per tonne is put ahead of feed value, in terms of nutrient supply, ration balance and intake potential.

Table showing ration spec
Table 1 – Ration nutrient specifications for effective beef finishing

“The key is to meet nutrient requirements whilst also maintaining good rumen function and minimising ration cost,” he adds. “For example, achieving the necessary ration energy density is critical if liveweight gain and fat cover targets are to be met, and many rations based on typical 10.0‑11.0MJ ME/kg DM silages will need an additional energy boost.

“Processed bread and the various biscuit blends like SugaRich Dairy and SweetStarch are good value options, but it’s important to avoid overloading the rumen with too much rapidly fermented starch that could trigger acidosis. In native breeds, too much starch will also produce overfat carcases, particularly if ration protein levels are low.”

Using the more slowly fermented maize meal to supply starch can help reduce the acidosis risk. But rations should also be balanced with high-digestible fibre feeds like soya hulls or sugar beet feed to ensure good rumen function, plus ad lib straw to provide the necessary physically effective fibre.

Improved feed efficiency

 “Another critical factor is the balance between starch and protein,” states Mr Wellock. “Native breeds and heifers are earlier maturing and start laying down fat sooner, so need a higher level of protein and less starch to meet target specification.

“…even continental cattle need more protein than many realise…”

“But even continental cattle need more protein than many realise, typically 13-14% of the ration dry matter.”

Research carried out by Harper Adams University using continental-cross-Holstein bulls found that increasing the concentrate crude protein from 12 to 14% improved both feed efficiency and growth rate. The result was a six-day reduction in finishing times and a £32/head lift in margin over feed.

ReguPro liquid feed image
ReguPro high-protein liquid feeds are an alternative to traditional proteins

“Using dual purpose feeds likeTraffordgold wheat-gluten moist feed to raise ration energy density is a great way to also increase protein content,” Mr Wellock adds. “Plus the added palatability these feeds bring to the ration will help drive intakes.

For those with storage tanks, high protein liquid feeds such as ReguPro 38 and Regumaize 44 are worth considering for the same reasons. They’ll also reduce ration sorting and supply sugars to boost fibre fermentation in the rumen, further improving overall efficiency and consistency of finish.”

* Based on AHDB 2015 average prime cattle DCW of 356kg, 45% of cattle missing specification, and estimated average penalty of 12.5p/kg.


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