Rayner Reckons

May 08

Getting paid for the value of your cattle

Posted on Friday, May 08, 2015

I'm often asked by producers for my ideas on ways to increase the income they receive for their cattle.  Getting a better return is something most people want from their cattle.  And along with the desire to make a better return, there is always some new idea or marketing strategy that someone wants to do because they have heard it will make them more money!

Sadly I don't think there is one simple scheme, breed or idea that will guarantee you will make more money!  In my experience the way to make money in cattle production is through a combination of work and focus.  And while most people work hard, the focus is often the area that is most lacking.

So what should you be focussing on?  The first thing is your market.  Australian beef markets are well defined.  If you are selling cattle to a feedlot or to an abattoir, both of these destinations can clearly describe what type of cattle they want to buy and they can say how much they are prepared to pay for those cattle.  

Despite these specifications being readily available, many people don't appreciate what a powerful tool they are in helping you make money.

Specifications provide you with target weights and fatness.  This helps you determine suitable growth paths on farm for your animals.  It means you can use your feed reserves and make grazing decisions that will direct your animals to a market end point.  This is the focus that many people need to have but often don't.

Sadly I often see people who put cattle into a market and those animals are overweight or over fat.  This creates a few problems.  Firstly the animals are out of specification, and so will be valued at a discounted level.  So instead of an optimum price per kilogram, it is sometime much lower than the animals deserve.  

Secondly it takes your feed resources, and therefore adds to the cost of producing those animals, to get them to the weight you sold them.  So not only are they worth less per kilogram, but you also wasted feed getting them to that point.  

I reckon a lot of people don't notice they are losing money.  The extra weight, even though it has a lower value, will mask the lower each animal has made.  So that producers often miss the fact their animals didn't receive the optimum price.

Focussing on a market specification, either for feedlots of for processing, helps set realistic work goals.  Decisions about grazing management, feeding programs and other tactical decisions become easier if you are working towards an end point. 

More importantly at a strategic level you can start examining your genetics and your herd.  Are your bulls helping you achieve the correct growth rates and level of fatness required by your target market?  Do you need to be selecting a different type of cow in the breeding herd?  

Are your pastures capable of supporting your growth program?

These are important decisions that can help you target your financial resources more effectively in the long term.  While in the short term you can focus on hitting a market specification that will return you the greatest return.

I recently worked with a client who was aiming for a specification for a feedlot.  The optimum price was for steers that were 400 - 449kg.  Over 450kg the price difference was 5c/kg lower.  Initially this didn't seem to bad, however we started to look at the feed resources we had to use.  The extra cost in this instance to get steers over 450kg, effectively worked out to be the equivalent of a 25c/kg discount!  We started to look at how we were growing those steers, and by aiming for an earlier turn off at the optimum weight we were able to save around $70/hd on the steers that normally would have been in the heavy category.  To wrap this story up in past years about 10 - 15 steers would always have been too heavy, so we saved around $1000 by making a few changes and staying more focused on the plan!

There is no doubt we had to work a little bit harder and change a few management practices.  However I reckon using resources more efficiently, and targeting a specification more closely, has helped realise better returns on farm.  

I reckon working with producers to be more focussed and efficient in their work programs has helped gain a better return for the clients I've worked with.  


Comments

Anonymous commented on 09-May-2015 09:03 AM
hit the nail on the head Alastair! seen too many carcases processed in the wrong category over the years...its the equivalent of turning up to a super car auction and finding a barina? on hoof specifications are incredibly important as they have implications downstream for processors with regards to plant productivity, efficiency and end customer requirements.
Rob Moore commented on 27-May-2015 05:40 PM
Sound article Alastair. They who set the grids are the main problem and how they set the grids. This has been my focus and please critique my solution- https://agriculturalcompetitiveness.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/public-submissions/gp217_moore_rob.pdf

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