New figures point the way to more efficient beef production

New data from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) has highlighted ways in which beef farmers could best focus their efforts on improving their bottom line, according to Welsh red meat body Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC).

Recently-released BCMS figures for 2017 have focused attention on how many calves beef dams produce over their lifetime. On average, beef dams in Wales which died during 2017 had produced 5.5 calves over the course of a nine-year lifespan. Increasing the number of calves could have a marked effect on the productivity of a herd, and reduce the cost of buying in replacements.

Two measures are key to addressing this issue – the average age at first calving, and calving intervals. In Wales, beef dams on average first calve at 1,009 days old and subsequently produce new offspring every 426 days.

The figures are reducing – in 2016 the average age that heifers first calved stood at 1,019 days with a calving interval of 427.8 days. However there remains scope for improvement. English herds in 2017 achieved figures of 998 days for average first calving and a calving interval of 419.7 days, and beef herds across the UK remain some way from the target interval of 365 days.

“Cattle prices have been strong in recent months, reflecting a long-term decline in supply as well as short-term factors such as the weak pound,” said HCC’s Data Analyst Glesni Phillips. “However, continuing to address the key fertility issues as highlighted in the new BCMS data would benefit the industry more generally in terms of farmers’ bottom line.”

“A controlled breeding programme could shorten the calving pattern,” she added. “This would improve herd profitability as the maximum number of calves possible in a dam’s lifetime would increase. More streamlined cow and calf management and increased weaning weights have also been seen on-farm from having shorter calving intervals,”

Glesni explained; “Figures from the Farm Business Survey show that there’s a marked difference between the most and least efficient beef enterprises. Profitability can be increased by spreading best practice from the most productive farms, with shorter calving intervals a very important factor in the profitability of the business.”

HCC has free publications on beef herd management available on its website ( and publishes a monthly bulletin on market trends and data.