Labour Input in Specialist Beef Bull Production in Sweden
Keywords:calf, finishing cattle, work time, work efficiency, questionnaire
Labour input was investigated on 101 Swedish beef bull farms, representing 42% of all farms rearing 100-800 bulls annually in 2007. Work time studies were performed through questionnaires, supplemented by field studies on a smaller set of farms. Young bulls were of dairy or beef breed, purchased from age 7 to 365 days by specialist producers and finished to an average age of 17 (dairy breed) and 15.5 months (beef breed) and carcass weight 300 and 330 kg, respectively. Farms with different models of finishing, depending on calf age at purchase, were categorised into four groups as: 1) Pre-weaned, 7-61 days purchase age (PW), 2) weaned, 56-92 days purchase age (W1), 3) weaned, 107-168 days purchase age (W2) and 4) weaned, 180-365 days purchase age (W3). Total median labour input per bull for pre-defined work tasks was 6.4, 7.1, 4.0 and 2.7 hours, respectively, for these four different finishing models. Labour efficiency in the four models was 0.76, 0.94, 0.64 and 0.69 min/bull/day, respectively, i.e. with no difference in labour efficiency between farms rearing pre-weaned calves (PW) or calves weaned from 2-3 months of age (W1). No differences were found in total daily labour efficiency (min/bull/day) within the quarantine house and finishing sections, or in tasks common to both sections. Feeding was the most labour-intensive task, requiring 65-78% of daily labour input. Feeding time was not strongly affected by technique, but was shortest on farms operating with total mixed ration (TMR) (0.30 min/bull/day) (p=0.046). However, farms operating with TMR were also significantly larger, with 200 bulls (range 100-600) in the finishing house compared with 150 bulls (range 44-400) on farms feeding roughage and concentrates separately (labour input 0.52 min/bull/day). The effect of housing system on labour input for daily tasks was examined on the 65% of farms utilising only one type of housing system in the finishing house. Systems with slatted floor group pens (concrete or rubber flooring) had the lowest work time requirement (0.47 min/bull/day), followed by straw bedded pens with or without paved alleys (0.51 and 0.58 min/bull/day, respectively) and loose house cubicle systems (0.70 min/bull/day). A non-linear relationship was found between labour efficiency and bull unit size. Variations in work efficiency for finishing 100-200 bulls/year ranged from 0.2-3.0 min/bull/day in the finishing house, indicating possibilities for increased labour efficiency related to factors other than unit size. Labour input per bull was not significantly affected by unit size from 450 bulls/year (0.4 min/bull/day) to 960 bulls/year (0.3 min/bull/day), possibly indicating the highest level of labour efficiency achievable in Swedish beef bull production at present.