Don’t just be a meat producer – be a supplier too

with Bill Webb
Bill Webb Feed Solutions

The army caterpillar has been putting pressure on new grasses and crops. We’ve had to spray all of our lease land because of the high concentration of them. And I know of others who’ve had land heavily infested as well – they’re certainly making their presence felt this year.

They just eat everything – turnip leaves until they are skeletons. Then they start eating the bulbs. With new grass they chew it down to ground-level; they just mow it back.

So you need to keep on top of monitoring and get in and spray them as soon as you can. If you don’t spray you’ll waste money – especially if you’ve sown new crops or grasses.

One Edgecumbe contractor told me they eat broadleaved-dock and Californian thistle. So they’ll eat any damn thing in their way. That’s why we call them army caterpillars – they just march and eat. March and eat.

Meat industry relationships

There’s some talk lately about farmers and their relationships with meat processors. There’s a problem arising where many farmers aren’t committing to their meat processors – and contracting forward. All they do is just become producers – not marketers of their produce – and just send product any old time and rely on the market of the day. They put animals to market when ready and take the given price – when everybody else is doing the same thing.

So traditionally the price – because of a surplus of stock on the market – usually drops.These farmers need to start talking to their meat processors and committing and contracting and planning their schedules around that sort of thing so they get better returns.

In some cases it may pay to hang on to cull cows a bit longer, put more condition on them and send to market when there’s a shortage of stock to yield a better price. Yes, it might cost more in feed – but you can soon work out the cost versus the gain. There are many calculators available to work out feed cost per 1kg DM and weight gain needed to cover that.

It’s about farmers being more strategic in the way they market and send their stock to market. Many other businesses – ourselves included – know if there is surplus on the market you can waste your time putting it out there because to sell it you have to drop your price and compete with everybody else. Sometimes you just have to sit on it.

Promoting free-range

Another issue here is consumers today are looking for quality but also want to know how the product has been produced – if it is free-range.

Well, we know our dairy and beef market is free-range so we probably need to be promoting that more. Also consumers want products that are environmentally-friendly. We need to look at our relationships with everybody; and our commitment to animal welfare, the environment and food safety as well. Farmers need to listen to consumers.

So it’s not just: “Oh we’ve got some cows ready to cull, ring up the works to send them”. They need to take a bit more ownership of the process and be more strategic to reap themselves more benefits.

Now we’ve also these cows from the South Island – more than 22,000 – to be put on the market to slaughter due to having Mycoplasma bovis.

So farmers wanting to strategically market their animals will have to get their stock into market before those cows or wait until afterwards – if they’re wanting good money.

If they settle for money on the day – for just being producers – that’s all they’ll get. It’s about communication and working alongside meat producers rather than being disconnected. Because meat producers want to be profitable; for that they need farmers to be profitable and want to keep supplying.

And consistency is key to being able to plan and budget well. When things are up and down like a yoyo it’s damn hard work.

Massey University surveyed 12 per cent of meat market farmers and found a lack of relationships between them and meat processors is costing NZ big time.

Dairy farmers are used to producing milk for Fonterra, who come and collect it; and they just see cull cows as a byproduct of that. But they should be suppliers to the meat market too.

Winter feeding sites

Farmers need to plan feed sites for cows whether on-farm or off-farm ahead of this winter. Try to have a feed pad or a stand-off area available.

Feed pads’ concrete floors where supplementary feeds are brought to the stock, they have high feed efficiency which can reduce wastage to approximately five per cent compared to 20 per cent or more of waste when feeding silage in the paddock. They also contain effluent in an area where it can be controlled.


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