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Economy of forage-based cattle beef and milk production

Nadeau, Elisabet; Steinshamn, Håvard; Holmström, Kristina; Riuzzi, Giorgia; Hessle, Anna; Walland, Finn; Gottardo, Flaviana; Butler, Gillian


The financial performance was assessed for some farm interventions considered in SusCatt to get an indication of the potential economic impact of a transition to greater reliance on forage feeding. Five SusCatt systems were considered, including the SLU work with dairy bred beef comparing breeds and finishing diets for both bulls and steers and in UK the suckler beef system relying solely on forage feeding. For dairy systems, economic performance linked to overall concentrate use was assessed in the historic records studied by NIBIO and for Italian farms moving to reduced maize silage in dairy diets. For dairy bred beef in Sweden, performance records from the trials comparing sire breed and feeding intensity was modelled to give 24 scenarios; 12 each for bulls and steers. There was little difference between the 3 Swedish regions considered, bulls tended to return more for meat sales than steers, although grazing steers on eligible grassland brought higher support payment. Interestingly, for bulls the use of beef (Angus) semen had a greater impact on margins than feeding intensity, although this was reversed for steers, when the Charolais breeding was less relevant than getting heavier carcases by adding 7 months to finish at 28 months. Profitability looked good when performance on the UK certified pasture feeding farms was benchmarked against national records (AHDB) for more conventional beef systems. In the absence of feed purchase on pasture farms, substantially lower input cost together with higher total revenue, left greater margins per breeding cow compared to the ‘best’ (top 25%) costed farms. Records from dairy farms in central Norway over 3 years were used to assess the relationship between profitability and concentrate use, after ranking herds and allocating to 3 equal groups. Support payment was similar across the groups, although Low farms (with low use of concentates and greater reliance on forage feeding) received higher agri-environment payment. Total operating costs were also similar across the groups (with differing configuration due to the relative balance of forage and concentrate feeding) so the higher milk prices achieved by farms in the Low group, gave higher margins per litre of [energy corrected] milk sold. In Italy, economic returns for intensive dairy farms with rations dominated by maize silage and grain were compared to alternative production systems using grass silage or hay. Differences were slight, milk yields were high, especially on the maize farms although herds with alternative feeding achieved higher milk prices and, despite higher feed costs, margins per litre were slightly higher with these more sustainable feeding systems. In our SusCatt proposal, we hypothesised that moving away from intensive cattle production, feeding less human edible food to our ruminants and using more forage and/or grazing in dairy and beef diets, would improve farm economic performance. We are now able to present evidence confirming many of these assumptions.


milk production; beef production; farming systems; production economics

Publicerad i

NIBIO Rapport
2021, nummer: 7:60
ISBN: 978-82-17-02810-9
Utgivare: Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research