The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) has published Pasture for Life, It can be done – The farm business case for feeding ruminants just on pasture at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in Oxford.
The association, which champions feeding sheep and beef cattle entirely on grass and forage crops, is keen to encourage more farmers to kick the habit of fattening their animals on grain. While cereal diets may quicken the process of finishing livestock, it does so at an economic and environmental cost, while producing a less healthy product.
“We realise that it is hard to stop feeding grain to livestock, if that is what has always been done,” notes PFLA chairman Dr John Meadley. “Farmers often ask us about the physical and financial implications; how would these affect their output and income? We hope the publication of this document will help to answer some of these questions.”
Written in part by Jonathan Brunyee, senior lecturer of farm business management at the Royal Agricultural University, the booklet analyses the business costings of eight PFLA members, and compares them against the average and top third producers in the AHDB Beef & Lamb Stocktake programme for 2015.
The PFLA sheep farmers earned higher gross margins due to much lower variable costs, and show a bigger net margin per ewe than average farms, and rival the top third producers. They also show a bigger net margin per hectare than average farmers.
While PFLA suckler cow producers show good gross margins due to low feed costs, the net margin per cow and per hectare echoes the industry average, showing a negative figure due to high fixed costs.
However, PFLA farmers who finish their cattle, many selling direct to consumers, produced a healthy output figure per head. This, coupled with very low variable costs, results in a substantial gross margin.
While their fixed costs are also high – due to the additional costs of marketing, the PFLA farmers still show a positive net margin, whereas the average and top third Stocktake producers both show negative positions at current prices.
“These results, while at this stage are from a small sample, do show that PFLA sheep farmers can rival the top third of producers, with a net margin of £43/ewe,” said Jonathan Brunyee.
“And PFLA beef finishers can produce a positive net margin between £105 and £567/head, depending on the route to market taken.
Makes economic sense
“So I believe we can fairly say that rearing livestock on nothing but pasture does make economic sense.
Mr Brunyee continues: “While the average livestock farm is losing money, Pasture for Life farmers are profitable. They are however, still reliant on subsidies, and additional income from direct sales and agri-environment schemes are crucial.
“And that is without taking into account other benefits that could be given a value – such as the storage of carbon in grassland and providing wildlife habitat.”
Also speaking at the launch was independent ruminant nutritionist Luppo Diepenbroek, who described how long grazing periods in well-managed diverse pasture can provide good growth rates in cattle and sheep. He also urged farmers to consider making the very best conserved forage possible to feed their livestock in winter, which is all-important when it is the only food they will be eating.
Copies of Pasture for Life, It can be done are available free of charge from Russ Carrington at the PFLA: email firstname.lastname@example.org.