Advice for beef farmers: Consider pushing heavier cattle to avoid autumn supply glut

The rain dancing paid off last weekend.

As is the norm for Ireland, just as silage is ready to be cut, it begins to rain.

But it also brought about a significant and most welcome increase in grass growth. An impending grass shortage has been averted on most farms.

As we approach the end of May, all stock have sufficient grass and, in general, grass quality is excellent.

This needs to be monitored closely however, as a deficit will at this time of year often turn to a massive surplus.

I would recommend, at this time of year, you should walk your farm twice per week to assess the grass supply, and to help you make grassland management decisions sooner rather than later.

Finishing stock off grass

Many with advanced stock are considering the option of finishing them earlier than they would traditionally have done. 

The suggestion is that there will be a significant number of extra finished cattle going for slaughter off grass when we get to October and November.

Perhaps heavier cattle should be pushed earlier to avoid this supply glut in the backend. But don’t try to push cattle unless they have been fully grown first.

Finishing off grass

The best quality grass may be capable of giving 0.75kg to 1kg of live weight gain per day on finishing cattle, depending on type, whereas the target gain for beef type continental stock should be of at least 1kg for heifers, and 1.2-1.3 plus for steers, per day.

Research has shown a good response from finishing cattle at grass by supplementing with 2.5-3kg of meal per day, provided that excellent quality grass is available at all times. 

However, if top-quality grass is not available, it will be necessary to feed up to 6kg per day to heavy heifers or steers that are close to finish.

The volume of meal needed will also depend on the breed and sex of the animals being fed, apart from grass quality and availability.

At this time of the year, finishing cattle off grass quickly has many advantages, in terms of stocking rate, profitability and work load.

Grass quality

Many are underestimating the volume of grass in paddocks at present, because dry matters continue to be much higher than normal for this time of year.

With the recent rain, and the subsequent growth spurt, grass will return to its seasonal norms in the mid-teens.

When finishing advanced stock, it is critical that lower covers are grazed at all times, in order to keep costs down.

Covers below 1,500kg of DM/ha are highest in digestibility, energy and sugars, meaning optimum intakes and performance can be achieved.

In order for grass to supply top quality feed, it must also be kept up to date with the required amount of fertiliser.

In my travels, I continue to do grass sward analysis with my NIR4 mobile analyser. Where swards are starved of nitrogen, they are significantly lower in protein, energy and sugars, because they are under nutritional stress.

Meal for grass finishing

This meal will need to be high in energy and low in protein, in order to get the final cover of fat on cattle quickly.

With the price of cereals so low currently, any high-energy, low-protein meal should be available at a good value price.

Include native barley and oats along with some maize meal for fat cover. Avoid fillers such as palm kernel and sunflower in these mixes, because they are of absolutely no advantage in a finishing diet.

Inclusion of a digestible fibre such as hulls or beet pulp may be advantageous, depending on the volume of meal being fed on grass.

Always include a good quality beef mineral.

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