Efficient red meat production and good carbon efficiency

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

UK farming is never short of challenges. Inclement weather, extra regulations or ‘red tape’ etc. In addition, we now see, hear and watch changes demanded delivering more for nature, protecting natural resources and our environment alongside delivering high quality produce. Climate change and the carbon footprint of UK agriculture is firmly in the spotlight. The new Agriculture Bill 2019 announces new regimes for fisheries, agriculture and trade “seizing the opportunities that arise from leaving the EU… replacing the current subsidy system, which simply pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed, and instead reward them for the work they do to enhance the environment and produce high quality food in a more sustainable way”.

Source; www.researchbriefings.parliament.uk


Figure 1; Practical ways to improve carbon efficiency on beef & sheep farms


GOOD CARBON EFFICIENCY = GOOD TECHNICAL EFFICIENCY



Source; Ian Cairns 5Agri


In Scotland The Farming Advice Service (FAS) has funded Carbon audits in the Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES). “Farm owners are usually surprised that good technical performance often means good carbon performance” comments Ian Cairns; beef and sheep farmer and 5Agri Advisor delivering Carbon audits. Details entered directly into AgRE-Calc© come up with a result but to assess a farm’s beef carbon footprint the whole business is assessed as well presenting huge management benefits to #measuretomanage.


Carbon storage occurs on livestock farms where carbon is locked into the soil in association with grazing land on short/long term pasture leys as well as rough grazing often organic and less productive peaty soils alongside woodlands. Often, red meat is produced on land not really fit for anything else.


Good technical efficiency is achieved in productive sucker beef units with high herd health, nutrition and fertility as well as the age and breed type giving high calving indexes and numbers of calves raised. Another useful Key Performance Indicator (KPI) though is weaning efficiency. This investigates weaned calf liveweight compared to the weight of the cow. The target is 50% (e.g. their calf when weaned at 200 days is 325kg from a 650 kg cow). This means bigger cows (who may have a good calving index) are not always the most efficient. During a 12-month period, 75% of feed consumed is used for maintenance by the animal so heavier cows need to perform or be culled out and their genetics not retained if breeding your own replacements.

Ian Cairns 5Agri asks; “Do you know which cows are most efficient? Heaviest cows don’t always wean the heaviest calves”. Ian goes on to add; “While analysing overall herd data is good, it is even better to record individual cow and calf data. Underperforming heavier cows will impact averages so drill down into individuals’ data to make real improvements”. The only way to efficiently do this Ian feels is by EID tagging, weighing and recording each animal (even if you are already weighing). So, EID tagging calves at birth with a Secondary EID Flag or Button tag and tagging cows with a ‘third’ EID button tag is sensible. If you are not weighing, adding load bars to crushes or inserting a weighing platform in a race along with an electronic weigh head and tag reader -either a fixed panel or an EID stick reader is a sound investment with good payback.


Measuring weaning efficiency

  • Record your individual cow weights when the bull in introduced or when they are AI served

  • Record calf weight at weaning (at 200 days or when you wean).

  • Record weights against that animal’s unique EID tag number

  • Calculate weaning efficiency = weight of weaned calf / weight of cow x 100