What is the Most Profitable Breed of Cattle?

You would have to have been living under a stone, or on another planet, for the past few years not to have noticed that the way agriculture is being funded in the UK is undergoing fundament change.

Whatever form the future of support payments are going to take, one thing we can be sure of is farmers are going to need to be more efficient in the future, and more profitable, to keep their heads above water.

This means the way people farm is likely to change, and when it comes to livestock, this could even mean moving away from those breeds often farmed for reasons of sentiment and tradition, towards those bred to generate a higher return.

But what does that mean and what does it look like, and which breeds are the most profitable and why? In this article, we take a look.

Efficiency and Profitability

Profitable cattle means maximising the difference between the input costs of raising an animal and the deadweight price of that animal.

This is not the same as maximising the deadweight price, as achieving this might include proportionately higher input costs and therefore, the profit margin on the animal is reduced. It is about finding the sweet spot that produces the biggest profit margin. The most profitable animals cost the least to raise but still produce a carcass in demand by the market, meaning they achieve a decent finished weight.

What Factors Influence Cattle Efficiency?

So, if profitability is a product of efficiency, what makes an efficient animal?

There are several factors that come into play when trying to squeeze as much profit as possible out of your cattle. These include:

  • High health

Poor animal health has an extremely negative impact on animal efficiency. Not only does it increase the amount farmers have to spend on vet visits and veterinary medicines, animals whose health is less than optimal will not gain weight at the rate required to produce a profitable animal. The simple fact is, animals that are not healthy significantly dent the overall profitability of the herd.

  • Early maturing cows

A cow that matures earlier is able to calve when she is younger. This has two overall benefits when it comes to efficiency – calving earlier means it will produce more young over its working life than a later maturing cow, and because it is productive younger, there is less overall input costs for the farmer to get the cow to a productive stage. It’s a win-win in the efficiency stakes.

  • High feed efficiency

This is a measure of how much feed is required by an individual animal to gain 1kg of weight. The lower the value, the less feed is needed to achieve this and therefore the overall cost of finishing that animal is less, maximising profit.

  • High growth rate

As a rule of thumb, the less time cattle stay on farm, the less they cost to rear. So, cattle with a high growth rate will achieve finishing weight quicker. Combine this with a high feed efficiency, and you have a recipe for a profitable suckler herd.

  • Highly fertile

High fertility means optimising conception rates when cows and heifers are put to the bull. If this is less than optimal, productivity, and therefore the efficiency, can be seriously compromised.

  • Milky cows

Having milky cows with a good bag is another important aspect of suckler cow efficiency as it minimises the need for supplementary feeding of calves, keeping down feed costs.

  • Hybrid vigour

Hybrid vigour occurs when two animals with different genetics are bred together, resulting in the offspring of the mating being superior to both parents in terms of key traits such as fertility, size, growth rate, etc. It has a significant impact on cattle productivity.

For example, work by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed an 8% improvement in weaning weight when a purebred cow is mated to a bull of a different breed.

The study also found crossbred cows are far more productive than purebred cows by combining better milk production, better body condition, better fertility, and a longer productive life. In total, crossbred cows weaned 23% more weight than purebred cows.

  • Ease of management

Ease of management can also have a profound effect on the efficiency of a suckler herd. Ease of calving, for example, minimises interventions and costly vet visits.

Docility leads to less potential for injury for the animal and a better conversion rate of forage into protein as the animal isn’t wasting valuable energy getting worked up and stressed. This generally translates to happier farmers as well, as more docile cattle are safer and require less interventions, making for a much easier working life.

A Word on Carbon

As well as farm funding being high on the government and media agenda, cutting carbon emissions from farm processes is as well.

The good news is more efficient cows are not only more profitable, but produce less carbon as well. This is because they eat less so produce less methane, and they get to finishing weight more quickly so produce less carbon over their lifetimes. So, as the UK moves towards coveted Net Zero status, efficiency won’t just be able to put more pounds in the farmers’ pocket, but less carbon into the atmosphere.

The Importance of Data

It’s all very well talking about efficiency, but if you can’t measure it, it’s not a great deal of use. This is why it is important to understand the data behind the breeds you raise.

Data collection for livestock is growing in importance and hence, popularity, and almost every breed company or association will have some kind of breeding index, based on Estimated Breed Values (EBVs). These enable breeders to forecast the traits of individual animals to meet the breeding objectives of commercial farmers.

However, how comprehensive are the EBVs for the breeds you use? Do they tell the whole story, enabling you to make informed decisions around efficiency and profitability?

How are breeding decisions on your farm really made, by data or by eye?

Whereas the eye of an experienced breeder can certainly create some show-stopping cattle, can it consistently identify the most profitable matings?

Experience tells us this is unlikely for two reasons. Firstly, many British farmers breed for carcass size, using big continental bulls. Whereas this might produce the best deadweight price come slaughter, it doesn’t take into account the cost of getting the animal to finishing weight, especially things like the cost of the interventions needed for cows to birth such big calves.

The second reason is that without data, it is simply impossible to know if the mating will produce the most profitable offspring, even if you think it will. Only by employing a scientific, data-led approach to your breeding programme can efficiency and profitability be selected for and measured.

Most Profitable Suckler Cow?

Many breeds have been lauded as the most profitable over the years, and of course, the staple native and continental breeds and their crosses have attracted enduring popularity because they have enabled farmers to make a living.

But as we said at the beginning of this article, the way farming is funded is changing and efficiency and profitability are coming to the fore.

There is only one breed that can boast the breadth of data, the hybrid vigour, and the efficiency needed to optimise profit, and that is the Stabiliser. The Stabiliser was specifically created to be the world’s most efficient suckler cow and has been bred with this in mind since its inception in the 1970s.

It is the only bred with EBVs for all traits that drive efficiency and many others and the only breed which records data from the whole herd, not just a select few, painting a clear picture of breed progression.

To find out more about how Stabiliser can drive the profitability of your suckler herd, get in touch now.

What our farmers say…
  • We are trying to produce beef that meets market specification and make the most profit possible. Using Stabilisers we are achieving our objectives, we have a low cost, low labour cow and good quality finishing cattle that meet the needs of the market.

    - Mel and Pete Momber, Hampshire
  • I’m excited by the prospects the Stabiliser can deliver for us. The proof was there based on scientific research, backed up by a large gene pool and precise management systems. It seemed the perfect breed for our farming system.

    - Will Evans, Machynlleth
  • On weaning in May at 10 mths old the Stabiliser calves were on par with the Blue and Angus calves. These were turned out to grass until early September then housed. This is when I was surprised by the differences between the breeds, the Angus averaged 480kg, the Blues 490kg but the Stabilisers were 530kg.

    - Robin Talbot, Laois – Ireland
  • In 2011 we bought 46 Stabiliser heifers plus 3 bulls and sold our 3 Belgium Blue bulls. The results were clear to see, by the time we pregnancy tested our 100 cows later that year. We went from historically having 15% barren cows to only 3% barren in a 9 week mating period.

    - Jeremy Iles, Gloucester
  • I have found Stabiliser cows to be very forage efficient. Their ability to put weight on in the summer months means I can save on winter feed costs. This has allowed me to keep more cows on the same resources.

    - Jono Cole, Cornwall
  • We have an easy-care system that is as profitable as any other beef enterprise. We benchmark our herd against the AHDB industry figure and we sit comfortably ahead of the top third performers. I believe we are now producing a carcass with the conformation and eating quality consistency that the market wants.

    - Dan Burling, Cambridgeshire
  • Docility, feed efficiency tested, easy calving, hybrid vigour, fertility, growth AND carcass traits from highly maternal cattle, what’s not like?

    - Robin Norrie, Fife
  • We aim to get most out of grass as possible. The hardy nature of the cattle seems to suit this system very well. Hardly any assistance is required during calving, combined with the excellent calf vigour produce healthy and strong calves which further reduces labour costs.

    - Llion and Sian Jones, Conwy
  • We’re over 10 years into our Stabiliser journey, we’re reaping the rewards. Moving to the Stabiliser has been a game changer for efficiency and job satisfaction, allowing us to increase cow numbers on the same area and finishing bulls averaging over 380kgs at 13 months. Our only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner!

    - Peter and Jackie Storrow, Pembrokeshire
  • Stabiliser cattle are a specialised suckler beef breed with the added bonus of hybrid vigour. The cattle are multi-trait performance recorded to produce EBV’s, this has a huge positive economical effect on our business. All of this is crucial for us to have a financially improving suckler herd on the farm.

    - Harri Parri, Llyn Peninsula
  • We chose the Stabiliser breed for their docility and easy calving traits, but with the added benefit of turning grass into meat. We soon saw all of these traits were true. Our first home bred steers were finished off grass at an average age of 19 months.

    - Dyfed Roberts, Anglesey
  • Despite our rainfall, we outwinter our cows on kale, the stabiliser cow will lay down excess fat, and successfully rear her calf. During the winter considerable cost savings are made. By changing to Stabiliser cattle I keep approximately 50% more cows as they only weigh 650Kgs, which meant more beef being produced.

    - Matthew Cooke, North Devon
  • We started using Stabiliser bulls 20 years ago. The fertility of the breed has enabled us to calve our own heifers at 24 months and reduce our calving period to nine weeks. This together with their good temperament has encouraged us to increase cow numbers. Consequently, the farm is now producing a lot more kilos of beef.

    - Edward and Ellis Griffith, Pwllheli
  • Minimal labour is required at calving time, with easy calving cows and calves up and suckling in no time at all. This gave us the ability to increase our cow numbers with no extra labour. The growth rate of Stabiliser cattle is exceptional, producing high weaning weights whilst converting feed efficiently.

    - John and Ianto Pari, Gwynedd
  • We started using stabiliser genetics in 2016, we have not looked back since, they exceeded all our expectations. Changing to stabilisers has enabled us to calve heifers at 2years old with no problems, cows wean a higher percentage of their body weight, we have increased cow numbers without any need for extra labour.

    - Carys Jones, Camarthenshire

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