For the best part of the year, finished cattle prices were very poor, and have hugely eroded farm incomes.
Obviously, price is out of the farmer’s hands — but there is plenty that can be done around the yard to help control costs and improve productivity.
There are many questions for you to consider, regarding your production system.
Addressing these questions and many more will help you to make much more informed decisions for the future.
Each year brings new challenges meaning that what works in one year may not work the next.
Records and plans
It is important that we look back at records from previous years in order to improve planning for the next year.
Make a list of your production results for the year, relative to targets, under the following headings.
Suckler herd performance: calves born, mortality rates, disease incidence, veterinary calls for sick animals, and empty cows.
Beef performance: live weight gain per day in weanlings, stores, and finishers; cattle kill out performance. grades, fat covers and prices achieved; meal purchases; fertiliser usage; grass grown per hectare.
List any other things you feel are important to your business.
What went right and wrong on the farm in 2014, that you need to address, or make sure is repeated?
In suckler herds, did the calving season go to plan? What was calf survival like?
If you lost calves, at what stage did this occur?
Did cows clean easily after calving? (these areas are influenced by feeding management, environment, and mineral status).
Were suckler calves of the desired quality?
Did your bull(s) produce consistent quality calves? Did you use AI?
How well did first calving heifers perform? Did they go back in calf? Had they grown sufficiently before calving?
Did they have enough milk?
What farm input did you change, that did or did not work?
Did you buy on price, and compromise on quality?
Did finishing animals grade as they should have?
Is the finishing system the correct one for you and your farm (Bulls vs Bullocks vs Heifers?)
Was the home grown forage good enough? Was the meal quality good enough? ” Are you buying based on protein content rather than energy?
Was enough meal fed?
Was grass quality as it should be?
Do you need help with grassland management? ”
Were weanlings at the desired weight for sale?
Did cows produce sufficient milk?
How well did bought-in stock perform on the farm?
Were there any losses?
What were the losses caused by? Stress? Disease?
Was your parasite control strategy effective in 2014?
It was not a particularly wet year, but the parasite burden was higher than normal in 2014.
Was there any new disease outbreaks? What should you be vaccinating for, if anything? Is it worth getting your vet involved, to formulate a vaccination programme?
Were you happy with silage this year?
Most are disappointed with silage quality and preservation. Some of this was weather related, but human error has a major part to play this year in poor silage quality.
The poor quality produced this year shows that better planning needs to be put in place for grass silage around the country.
Did particular fields grow less grass than others?
Do they need reseeding?
What is the lime, P and K status?
Do they need trace elements?
Is compaction an issue?
How did your crops yield this year? Assess soil nutrition before planting in 2015.
What is soil condition like? Are fields totally suitable for the crops grown?
Are you growing the right crops for your beef production system?
Each year, new technologies and methods are introduced, which need to be embraced. Production efficiency is critical on a beef farm, and must be strived for at all times.
Improving profitability is the bottom line, and the more things you get right, the more likely you are to achieve optimum returns.
As this is my last article of 2014 I would like to wish all readers a very happy Christmas and a prosperous 2015.
As always in beef farming, as one year ends, the cycle begins again.
What lessons have we learned from 2014, and what are we going to change to improve our farming practices in 2015?