Liquid protein opportunity to boost beef ration value and margins

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Length: 700 words; 3-4 minutes

Feed costs are a major factor affecting beef margins and overall profitability, yet too often producers are failing to give feed choice the priority it deserves, claims KW nutritionist Dr Anna Sutcliffe. And the result can be daily ration costs that are at least 10-15p/head higher than they need to be, a loss that can add up to more than £900/month for a 200-head unit.

“Feed choice and ration formulation are critical factors in determining how much it costs to achieve each kg of growth, and that has a big influence over margin per head,” she explains. “Correct feeding can also improve carcase conformation – maximising p/kg deadweight received – as well as shortening the time it takes to finish through improved feed efficiency and growth rates.

“Shorter finishing times mean a greater proportion of the feed goes towards growth rather than maintenance, plus a quicker turnover of cattle that allows more to be finished each year. Both improve overall unit efficiency and profitability.”

Low ration value

One of the challenges faced is the low quality forage – such as big bale silage, maize silage, wholecrop cereal silage or straw – that often forms the basis of beef growing and finishing rations. Traditionally topped up with rolled cereals, the result is relatively inexpensive, but also poor value, typically being low in protein, somewhat unpalatable and often posing a high risk of acidosis.

“…finishing ration needs to supply at least 13-15% crude protein…”

“To maximise weight gain and achieve good carcase conformation, the finishing ration needs to supply at least 13-15% crude protein (CP) on a dry matter basis, and that’s just not possible using cereals as the only supplement,” Dr Sutcliffe continues.

“Unfortunately, the high protein feeds that are needed – such as rapemeal, British wheat distillers’ feed or Traffordgold wheat-gluten moist feed – are currently seeing both considerable price volatility and, in some cases, very limited availability.”

Liquid protein opportunity

However, the cost of high-protein liquid feeds hasn’t been affected in the same way, being influenced more by the price of molasses than the protein meal markets. And as Dr Sutcliffe points out, that molasses price is comparatively low at present thanks to a steady rise in global sugar production over the past 12-18 months.

“Availability is good, so it represents a great opportunity for beef producers to improve ration performance, reduce feed costs, or both. UK-produced distillery syrups like Spey Syrup, for example, contain 30-40% CP plus 14.0MJ ME/kg DM, and once that extra energy is taken into account, it’s a great way to boost ration value and performance.

Spey Syrup image
In addition to energy, Spey Syrup is a great source of rumen degradable protein (RDP).

“In fact, swapping to a distillery syrup has allowed one customer to reduce ration costs by 17p/head, even though the ration was based around high quality maize silage. Not only does that equate to a saving of more than £1,000/month for a 200-head unit, but we improved nutrient supply too!

“The extra palatability and reduced sorting from adding a liquid feed also boosts intakes and reduces acidosis risk, leading to further gains in both growth rate – for faster finishing – and feed efficiency,” Dr Sutcliffe adds. “So the overall impact on profitability can be substantial.”

Increased feeding flexibility

Another option is the high-urea molasses-based liquids, such as ReguPro 38 and Regumaize 44, with protein contents of 38-44% compared to the 37.5% CP in rapemeal. And since current cost savings will easily cover the cost of installing a liquid storage tank, there’s the added advantage of a ending up with a feeding system that’s more flexible in the future, claims Dr Sutcliffe.

“The feed markets are increasingly volatile nowadays, as growing global demand puts ever more pressure on worldwide supply, particularly for proteins. Having a flexible feeding system that can adapt to dry, moist or liquid feeds, depending on which is offering best value, is going to be an advantage.

“And best value has to be the priority, which means feeds that deliver greater performance for every £ spent, regardless of whether they’re more or less expensive per tonne,” she concludes. “Make that the focus of feed choice, along with formulating rations that fully support potential cattle performance and maximise feed efficiency, and the results will justify the investment made.”

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