Significant factors able to reduce on-farm losses of beef cattle on beef finisher farms

Tue 24th Nov, 2020 Kees de Roest Content Type: Research Innovation

High on-farm losses (dead, euthanased and early culled animals) on beef finisher farms are associated with lower financial returns. Losses may range from 1-3%. Housing systems other than fully slatted pens reduce mortality. Most relevant factors able to reduce on-farm losses on beef finisher farms are:

1. buy calves from one single farm

2. try to reduce the number of suppliers of newly bought-in animals by selecting suckler herds of bigger size capable of providing an entire batch of animals in a single delivery

3. use a dedicated quarantine area for animals at arrival

4. prepare a health plan for metaphylaxis and disease treatment

5. apply exact rations in line with cattle requirements and availability of feed ingredients

6. avoid mixing of animals before transportation, as transport of cattle can lead to increase susceptibility to disease

The main farm challenge is that mortality of bulls and heifers on beef finisher farms can be a significant problem that impairs the profitability of the farm. In other to know the factors that are able to redcue this on-farm losses a large range of factors have been investigated with a potential impact on mortality on 63 beef finisher farms in Austria, Germany and Italy.  In this way the main factors impacting mortality of beef cattle on beef finisher farms have been identified.

A major bottlenech was that,  due to the relatively small data set, this research however was not able to clearly identify critical threshold values for specific chemical constituents and/or physical fractions of the Total Mixed Ration (TMR). Early research has shown that metabolic disorders due to unbalanced feeding schemes may account for 42% of beef cattle mortality. Common diets for finishing beef cattle are rich in concentrates to promote high daily gains.  EFSA suggests the provision of at least 15% of physically effective roughage to avoid sub-acute acidosis, bloat and other digestive disorder that may increase mortality.

The major lesson learned from this research innovation is the creation of a high awareness of beef finisher farmers to take account of the factors that potentially reduce mortality rates of beef cattle on their farms. This awareness can be triggered by beef cattle farmers’ organisations, consultants and public animal health services.


More detailed information about the costs and benefits of this innovation can be found by clicking on the following link:



More detailed information about this research can be found in: 

Risk factors associated with beef cattle losses on intensive farms in Austria, Germany and Italy

M. Bršic,*, M.K. Kirchner, U. Knierim, B. Contiero, F. Gottardo, C. Winckler G. Cozzi

The Veterinary Journal 239 (2018) 48-53

You can download the full paper at:

Authors: Kees de Roest and Claudio Montanari - CRPA

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Kees de Roest
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Thu 18th Nov, 2021

Costs and benefits of risk factors associated with beef cattle losses in intensive finishing farms in Italy

Among management practices adopted in intensive beef finishing farms, factors that (Brscic et al. 2018) have been proved to be associated with lower mortality rates are the following:

- No mixing animals during transport to the farms in order to prevent spread of diseases and cross-contamination between cattle of different origin.

- Reduction of the number of suppliers of newly bought-in animals by selecting suckler cows farms of big size or specialized calf rearing farms, capable to provide an entire batch of cattle in a single delivery.

- Keeping newly bought animals in dedicated quarantine pens, separated from other incoming groups.

- Separation of sick animals from healthy animals in dedicated sick pen.

- Keeping farm production records, maintaining a detailed and reliable data inventory.

According to the survey on 63 beef cattle farms in Austria, Germany and Italy, these good practices were found to be significantly correlated with the lowest mortality rates. Their adoption entailed mortality at least one percentage point lower than in the other finishing farms.

Simulation of the potential impact of production cost has been carried out on the Italian typical finishing farms. No mixing animals during the transport to the farm and reduction of feeder cattle suppliers have been considered requirements already fulfilled by the two farms.

The investments for pens dedicated to sick animals and to feeder cattle at their arrival for the quarantine period derive from the study carried out by CRPA for the Emilia Romagna region, concerning the system of good practices and proper management of livestock farms for the sustainability of animal production (P. Rossi, A. Gastaldo, C. Montanari; 2020). The cost for keeping farm production records derives from the same study.

The total investment per bull has been calculated considering a space allowance of 3,3 square meters in quarantine pens and 6 square meters in pens dedicated to sick animals. The investment is assumed in € 450 per square meter for both areas. Total capacity of the quarantine area is 6% of the total farm size (n. of places). The capacity of the animal sick pens is 1,8% of the total available places. Annual depreciation of the investment has been calculated on 20 years period, applying 4% interest rate.

Labour time for keeping farm production records and monitoring cattle health status is estimated in 10 minutes per beef cattle.


The benefits entailed by the reduction of mortality are not only the increase of the number of cattle sold per year, but also the reduced waste of feed and other inputs consumed by those cattle that die before reaching the final sale weight, including the purchasing cost of feeder cattle died.




ITALY – Beef Finishing farm 910 bulls sold per year

Finishing farm productivity before and after 


IT 910

Breed and type

Charolais – young bulls

n. places


Weight at start (kg)


Weight at end


Daily weight gain (gr/day)


Finishing period (days)




Reduced risk factors

Mortality rate



Bulls dead



Bulls sold per year (n.)



Weight sold (tons l.w.)






Factors able to reduce losses: costs per place and cost per bull sold


IT 910

Cost per place in quarantine pens 

€ 1.440

n. places in animals sick pens


Cost per place in pens dedicated to sick animals 


n. places in quarantine pens


Cost of keeping records per bull and year

€ 2,05



Quarantine pens depreciation per place and year

€ 6,30

Sick animals pens depreciation per place and year

€ 3,60

Cost of keeping records per place and year

€ 2,05



Bulls finished per place and year




Quarantine pens depreciation per animal sold

€ 3,90

Sick animals pens depreciation per animal sold

€ 2,25

Cost of keeping records per animal sold

€ 1,28




IT 910 - Costs per bull and per100 kg lw. sold before and after



Reduced risk factors


€/head sold

€/100 kw l.w.

€/head sold

€/100 kw l.w.

Non factor costs





Animal purchase










Machinery (mainten., depr, contractor.)





Fuel and energy





Buildings (mainten. and depr.)





Vet. and medecine