Establishing performance targets from rotational grazing for cattle

In this section of the rotational grazing systems series for beef production we look at growth rates and KPI's.
To explore the whole series click here

Grassland management is the key driver to increasing growth rates and stocking rate from grass.

a herd of cows in a field

Credit James Evans

Maximising grass yield, grass quality and cattle growth rates is a juggling act. Sometimes, one must be prioritised to the detriment of the other. Hitting grazing residuals and utilisation targets will maintain grass quality but it may reduce animal growth rates. Likewise, underutilising grass and not hitting residuals will maximise cattle growth but will reduce the quality of the paddock in the next rotation.

Target growth rates for different classes of stock

Stock type

Expected growth rate (kg/day)

Calves with cows

1–1.3

Weaned calves

0.7–1.0

Dairy beef 0–12 months

0.7–1.0

Finishing cattle

1.0–1.5

The suckler cow can be used to help clear paddocks up which have been underutilised. Likewise, growing cattle which are not required to be pushed hard can also be used for this, while finishing cattle or young dairy/beef calves can be given the best grass.

Targets for grass-based beef farms

Grass-based farms should record gross margin data on individual enterprises to make sure that animal performance is on target. However, it is just as important to maintain data on a per-hectare basis. The more grass you are able to grow and utilise per hectare, the higher the profitability will be.

Key performance indicator (KPI)

Target

Grass grown (tonnes of dry matter per ha)

12

Utilised grass (tonnes of dry matter per ha)

9.6 (80%)

Stocking rate per ha (livestock units)

1.5–2.0

Daily liveweight gain across the grazing season (kg/day)

1.1

Liveweight produced per ha (kg)

292

Gross margin per ha

£600–1000

Average days housed per year

140

To access the KPI calculators, click here 

Case study : Matt House

Explore the steps Matt took to increase his gross margin per hectare to £839.

Matt House, farm manager of Bowden Farms, runs an Aberdeen Angus-cross suckler herd, which produces weaned stores at 8 months of age. So far, Matt has been involved with our Beef from Grass project, which aims to demonstrate the benefits of improved grassland management, for two grazing seasons and is currently entering a third grazing season with the project.

The key performance indicators and the improvements made for Bowden Farms 

Pre-project baseline

Year 1

Year 2

2015

2016

2017

Cow performance

Number of cows and heifers put to the bull

33

79

122

Calves reared per 100 cows and heifers put to bull

73

90

98

Calf performance

Daily liveweight gain for weaned calves (kg/day)

0.98

0.97

1.02

Weaned calf weight produced per forage hectare
(kg at 200 days) (kg/ha)

95.01

211

313

Grass performance

 

 

 

Stocking rate (LU/ha)

1.00

1.49

1.53

Grass production (tonnes dry matter per hectare)

-

8.52

13.25

Gross margin

Gross margin per cow put to the bull

£159.60

£425.18

£535.88

Gross margin per allocated hectare

£88.72

£513.06

£838.53

For Bowden Farms, suckler herd performance is improving, with excellent technical and financial performance. Cow numbers have increased over the last two seasons from 33 cows to 122 cows, with numbers set to continue to increase towards 200 cows.

The increase in stocking rate has been driven by better grassland management. This in turn has seen grass yields increase from 8.52 t DM/ha in 2016 to 13.25 t DM/ha in 2017.

The increased stocking rate has allowed for more store cattle to be sold per hectare and this has increased the gross margin per hectare to £839. Matt is confident that stocking rates across the farm will be increased to 2 LSU/ha in the next season. This will push total gross margins per hectare close to £1,100 per hectare.

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