Finishing cattle off grass quickly has many advantages but do the maths

Finishing cattle off grass quickly has many advantages but do the maths

The beef trade continues to be extremely difficult. Unfortunately, the next ship that was supposed to be sailing for Algeria with finished bulls tomorrow has been cancelled.

Why has this been allowed to happen? Who was asleep at the wheel? With marts forced to sell online, or not at all, the system is in turmoil right now.

Hopefully as restrictions ease then the mart trade can get back to some level of normality ASAP.

As we approach the middle of May, all stock have sufficient grass and grazing conditions are excellent. In general, grass quality is very good, however heading dates are upon us and grass sward management is much more difficult as a result.

The mix of heat and showers over the last three weeks has really driven on growth and a surplus now exists on most beef farms.

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

From talking to clients around the country, it is apparent that there is a significant moisture deficit and rain is badly needed to maintain growth.

The cold and harsh days and nights since last Sunday have slowed growth significantly, but the forecast beyond this weekend looks warm but with little or no rain.

Many are overestimating the volume of grass in paddocks at present as Dry Matters are lower than in recent weeks. I have recorded dry matters of 13% to 15% on grazing swards in the last week at home.

When finishing advanced stock and in order to keep costs down that lower covers are being grazed at all times. Covers below 1500Kg 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.

Are swards good enough, or do they need reseeding? Pure swards are obvious when growth is good.

Increased supply

As was the case last year, there are suggestions that there will be a significant number of extra finished cattle going for slaughter off grass once we get to October and November. Perhaps heavier cattle should be pushed earlier to avoid this increased supply in the backend. Don’t try to push cattle though unless they have been fully grown first.

Top quality grass will be capable of giving 0.75 to 1 kg live weight gain per day on finishing cattle, depending on animal breed and sex, whereas the target gain for beef type continental stock should be of at least 1 kg for heifers and 1.2 to 1.3 plus for steers, per day. A good response can be achieved from finishing cattle at grass by supplementing with just 2 kg meal per day.

This is provided that excellent quality grass is available at all times. However, if top quality grass is not available, it will be necessary to feed higher levels 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.

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

Finishing cattle off grass quickly has many advantages but do the maths

Do the maths on your stock and their potential performance versus kill out percentage and price available. An extra 0.4kg over the next 90 days for example would mean an extra 22-23kg of carcase on a continental steer. That would be worth approx. €75-95 per head depending on price, grade and bonus payments. 2kg per head over 90 days would cost approx. €45-€50.

Slightly better margin, animals slaughtered earlier allowing you to be compliant with nitrate regulations easier and or allow you to re stock earlier.

Any concentrates to be fed on grass to heavy cattle will need to be high in energy and low in protein in order to get the final cover of fat on stock quickly.

Include native barley and oats as this will achieve target fat cover quickly. Avoid feeding fillers in any mixes as they are of no advantage in a good finishing diet.

The 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 all the way to slaughter through, feed, licks or in water.

The beef trade continues to be extremely difficult. Unfortunately, the next ship that was supposed to be sailing for Algeria with finished bulls tomorrow has been cancelled.

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