26th November 2020

Don’t let livestock outstay their welcome

By Bruce McConachie, QMS head of Industry Development

There are a thousand different farm management tips and principals at our fingertips, varying wildly from extensive, high-nature value systems, to indoor finishing units. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages and each one has its place in the wider tapestry of Scottish agriculture. Almost every type of commercial livestock system should operate on the same principal. Get rid of your stock as soon as you can.

Now, before everyone starts planning retirement, let me explain. Getting rid of your stock is more like the principle of ensuring you don’t keep livestock any longer than you have to, which is itself one of the cornerstones of efficient production. And efficient production should be the aim of every business, from Scottish store lamb producers, through to Coca-Cola.

The Suckler Beef Climate Group, that I was lucky enough to sit on, produced a comprehensive set of recommendations designed to improve the efficiency of the national herd, and many of those recommendations are aimed at helping farmers market their stock as effectively as possible.

In 2018 only 60% of prime lambs and as few as 70% of cattle met market specifications and the main reasons for them being out of spec was that they were too fat, or too heavy.

Yorkshire based financial planner and farmer Chris Clark has done some extraordinary work on optimising profit margins. He discovered that there was a point in every business where increased input can, at the same time, increase yields and shrink profit margins.

It’s almost a natural instinct as businesspeople to maximise output as much as possible, but that often runs the risk of tipping the scales (quite literally) in the other direction. If an abattoir looks for a 480-550kg animal, the temptation is often to wait until it hits the scales at 549.5kg before booking it in, but what’s the true cost of those extra kilos? Even at a decent DLWG it’ll be keeping you company for an extra few weeks.

And nice though company is, waving goodbye as soon as it hits specs will have its unseen advantages. You can free-up; shed space, forage, minerals, time, and critically, the emissions that the animal produces.

Without getting bogged down with examples it’s worth stressing that this management practice is applicable to all commercial livestock businesses. From indoor finishing units to windswept native breeds on hillsides across Scotland, the unifying principal of businesses should be to hit spec for the market you supply, and sell, as soon as you can.

A good tool, when looking at marketing the finished article, can be found in QMS’ newly unveiled ‘Meat the Grade’ resource. A comprehensive guide to help farmers better understand the transition from hoof to hook. But there is no better starting point than a discussion with your fieldsman, buyer, auctioneer, or butcher. They’ll know what they want, and if you can give them that, they’ll come back for more. Remember, in this business, the customer is always right.


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