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Dernière mise à jour : Mai 2018

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What is the economic and technical return for large suckling cow herds ? An example using Charolais

INRA Prod. Anim., 8 (3),213-226.


INRA Laboratoire d’Economie de l’Elevage, Theix, 63122 St Genès Champanelle


Since the number of cattle units per worker is one of the most determining factors in a suckling cow farm’s revenue, specialized breeders are continually being forced to increase both their number of stock and the size of their domain. The French average herd, in 1992, for specialized breeders was 37 suckling cows. This value was 46 in the Burgundy region. There may be grounds for concern that this continual increase in the number of cattle per farm may have possible negative consequences on their technical and economic performances. Increasing the animal concentration brings with it certain risks. Certain operations, most notably calving and the care of the calves, cannot be automated and the farmers are compelled to do these by hand. In addition, the relatively low return resulting from suckling cow farming limits the farmer’s reinvestment capacity.

This article evaluated the performance of farms in the centre of France that have large herds of Charolais (more than 50 calvings per worker). The zootechnical performances and economic results of ten large herds over a 13 year period were compared with reference data from 37 farms studied over the same period in the same region. The results showed that the performances in large herds did not, in fact, decrease. In order to ensure a high level of performance for these large herds, certain conditions were necessary. The breeders needed to be technically competent. They understood the specific characteristics of suckling cattle and knew how to make the best use of them. They understood such details as building adaptations, including free-stall housing and surveillance systems which aided with calving. The herds maintained a steady, continuous increase, essentially due to internal breeding and the maintenance of a sufficient number of heifers. These farms were capable of continually adapting to new technologies. The most rigorous condition related to capitalization. A significant financial sacrifice was delabded from the farming families. A five-year review demonstrated that for large herds, 37% of the revenue was used to increase the main capital (of which 5% was for land ownership costs). This left only 63% available for the family.

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