Export Demand Boosts Cull Finishing Value

UK - High prices underpinned by strong export demand mean effective finishing will easily add £75-£100 to the market value of a cull cow this winter, calculates EBLEX. And with the market balance set to favour producers for the foreseeable future, cull cow finishing looks like continuing to be an attractive option for many.
calendar icon 20 December 2011
clock icon 2 minute read

Despite an increase of more than 20% in cull cow volumes over the past year, the strength of export demand saw UK market prices rise markedly in the 12 months to November. Overall, AHDB figures show average cull cow realisations rising from 83p/kg liveweight in November 2010 to peak at over 120p/kg in the summer and remain comfortably above 110p/kg going into this winter.

What is more, volumes are predicted to decline in the coming year and manufacturing beef demand from mainland Europe looks like staying strong. So both beef and dairy cull markets – and with them the prospects for finishing – are forecast to remain buoyant.

Finishing for the traditionally rising cull cow market in the spring offers particular opportunities. However, EBLEX insists this needs to be carefully planned and managed to ensure cull cows gain sufficient condition without getting over-fat. Key success factors in this respect are the right cow, the right ration and the right feeding period.

Young cows offer particular opportunities for profitable weight gain due to higher feed conversion efficiencies, as do larger-framed thin cows which can show valuable compensatory growth. Cows in very poor condition or with health problems – especially lameness – should be avoided as they are far less likely to put on weight efficiently.

A high energy ration (11.8 MJ ME/kg DM) with a low protein content (11-12 per cent) is advised to secure the right type of weight gain. It is important to provide an effective fibre source – such as straw – spread the carbohydrate load through little and often or mixed diet feeding and, of course, ensure the diet is cost-effective. Identifying suitable dairy culls in advance will improve cost-effectiveness by enabling their condition to be improved in late lactation.

As compensatory growth invariably decreases over time – with the maximum effect over the first month – knowing when to stop feeding is crucial. A 60-90 day finishing period is likely to be suitable for most cows. However, if sufficient condition isn’t put on within the first 30-40 days, animals should be marketed at this stage.

It is vital to keep in touch with the market and take advice on when to sell. Equally, with store cattle trading at record levels, feeding cows are in considerable demand. So it may be advisable to consider selling to a professional feeder rather than taking the job on directly if economic feed supplies or housing is not readily available.

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