Suckler beef post Brexit and beyond – native breeds, the way to go

Orla Kelly "Managing a Profitable Suckler Herd post Brexit"
Orla Kelly "Managing a Profitable Suckler Herd post Brexit"

Suckler producers will have no option but to step up their efficiency if their businesses are to survive the marketplace challenges and thrive in the new era post Brexit, and native breeds will be the way to go, Queen’s University, Belfast student, Orla Kelly told the British Cattle Breeders’ Club conference in Telford last week.

“Farming a functional suckler cow will be vital to the herd’s success,” said Orla, who is the current holder of the Beef Student of the Year title awarded by the Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society.

“Native breeds offer a very good option to increase efficiency through breed structure. For example, Beef Shorthorn was developed in the UK, consequently it has adapted to best suit local weather conditions and forage types. In comparison, Continental breeds grow larger and in turn require more concentrate and forage to reach the required level of finish,” she said.

“Market price, trade tariffs and potential cheap meat imports are all factors which no one in the beef sector will be able to control, however there are a number of areas they can improve.

“I believe that suckler producers will need to adopt a low-cost production system, so the genetics used to build a herd should be considered very carefully with maternal traits being at the forefront of considerations. They will need to question whether or not the current breed is suitable for their system.

“For example, a functional suckler cow should be sufficiently milky and ideally medium sized, so she will be more likely to produce the ideal weight of calf at weaning and reach the target cow efficiency of 50kg calf weaned per 100kg cow put to the bull with lower maintenance costs than a large cow. These cows should be hardy and have good foraging ability in order to reduce concentrate costs.

“A suckler herd should have a quiet temperament and be easily handled since safety is paramount on any farm. HSENI has recorded over the last five years, 23 deaths from animal injuries and 15% of the 15,000 injuries were caused by animals.

“Fertility should be a major factor in selecting cows; there is no point in having a cow with excellent genetics if she cannot produce a live calf, without calving difficulties, every 365 days.”

She continued: “Listen to consumer demands and trends determining carcass size or weight, for example the current 380kg ceiling is likely to be reduced in future to 340kg. To increase profitability, then tailor the business to meet those demands for example, native breeds have a lower carcass weight and they can achieve a higher output price due to the premium price paid.

“Native bred beef is currently in real demand for example, the Glenarm Scheme offers a 10% premium over base for registered Beef Shorthorn sired cattle whilst Morrisons Shorthorn Beef Scheme pays 25p/kg above base,” she said adding: “This increased output along with reduced concentrate costs could make the native breed a much more profitable option post Brexit.”