Successful and profitable cattle finishing relies on appreciating the factors affecting profitability: good budgeting, risk management, and achieving the targeted levels of physical performance.
Efficient feeding can have a positive influence on the productivity and profitability of beef production, but with over 70% of variable costs in a beef finishing system coming from forage and feed, it is important that it is utilised effectively.
"When it comes to finishing cattle, it is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach, with a variation of systems - from semi-intensive feeding to 100% grass fed," highlights Quality Meat Scotland's (QMS) Cattle and Sheep Specialist, Beth Alexander.
"Producers operate under tight margins, so it’s important to identify cattle to suit your system based on infrastructure, nutrition, genetics and management, which will help meet market requirements and generate profit."
Some of the key challenges when finishing beef cattle at grass is achieving adequate fat cover on carcases and maintaining optimum live weight gain as feed demand on farm increases and grass quality starts to decline as the grazing season progresses.
But for fifth generation farmer, Claire Pollock from Ardross Farm, near Fife, adapting her system to allow all cattle and sheep to be fed on a 100% forage-based diet has paid off, with the farm recently being awarded its Pasture for Life status.
“Our feeding regime is very simple,” highlights Claire. “Grass in the summertime and silage when the grass has stopped growing.
“We use a mix of strip and paddock grazing in a rotational system; however, it is something we should do more of. Some of our fields are not the easiest to divide, but we have started using Kiwitech fencing and are upgrading our water system to allow this to be achieved.”
As grass is an instrumental part to the system at Ardross, there is a strong focus on trying to produce high quality silage to fatten cattle and keep them over winter.
The plentiful amount of grass in the arable rotation not only benefits the cattle enterprise by providing higher quality silage but improves the arable operation on the heavier land.
Situated near the east coast in Fife, Ardross is fortunate of some sandy land which Claire states is ideal for out wintering cattle.
“We utilise our sandy land and grow forage crops including kale, rape and turnips to allow us to keep around two thirds of the cattle outwintered.”
Originally dairy farmers, the Pollock family transitioned into beef 25 years ago by crossing the cows to a beef bull. 10 years later, Claire introduced the Stabiliser breed by putting a Stabiliser bull over existing cows and purchasing heifers through the Stabiliser Cattle Company.
Maternal traits are important within the 125 cows, which are all homebred. Any surplus heifers along with bullocks are fattened on farm, and therefore a key focus for Claire along with maternal traits is sound feet, temperament, and the ability to fatten from grass by 24 to 30 months.
Claire, alongside her sister Nikki, sells beef through their diversification businesses, Ardross Farm Shop, which means a steady supply all year round is required.
“We calve three times a year to maintain a steady supply of finished cattle for our farm shop. Our Pasture for Life certification means all cattle are finished in the same way, regardless of the time of year and that is off grass, silage or forage crops.
“Prior to the pandemic, the farm shop required two 360kg deadweight cattle beasts each week with demand increasing in the holiday months, especially Christmas. Since March 2020 we have seen demand rocket and are increasing both our beef herd and sheep flock to keep up with demand.”
Claire notes that an important aspect to the success of their business is working alongside key industry partners.
Ms Pollock commented: “Our vet, Ainslie Smith of Eden Vets, is a critical part of our team. We have moved from using them as an emergency only service to utilising their knowledge and expertise in health planning guidance. We sit down regularly with Ainslie and are constantly looking at ways to improve our animals and the end product we sell to customers.”
As well as veterinarian support, Claire highlights that processors and butchers as important industry partners and utilise their regular feedback to help them boost their bottom line by improving livestock selection and management for slaughter to ensure cattle are hitting target specifications and they are not penalised for out of spec cattle.