Finishing stock not performing to genetic potential this winter

By Brian Reidy

Are your finishing stock performing as you would like or expect?

Cattle to be killed out of the shed this spring have, in general, been indoors for 70 to 80 days, if not longer, at this stage. A lot of stock are not performing to their genetic potential this winter, mainly due to forage quality being only average.

Even with meal being good value, insufficient volumes are being fed to finishing animals in many sheds.

Factory prices are slipping back, unfortunately, and as a result, it is even more important to push cattle on now, to improve efficiency by getting a faster finish.

Each extra day’s feeding is eroding your profit, if performance is not at an optimum level.

How close cattle are to slaughter depends on many factors.


Obviously, some breeds will finish in a shorter period than others.

The likes of Herefords and Angus would tend to be earlier maturing breeds, and tend to go overfat easier, if not monitored.


Well managed heifers and bulls will finish much younger than steers.

In general, well-grown heifers will be killed at 16 to 20 months, with a 70-day intensive finish.

Young bulls will usually perform best, and reach targets with a 120-day intensive finish.

Steers will generally require a 100-day finish, and will usually be 22-24 months old.


Age is important for more mature breed types, in order to get the final fat cover.

Age should not be the only thing considered, however, when deciding when to push stock for finish.

Animals must also be grown sufficiently before finishing starts, regardless of their age.

Weight and frame development at housing

Most well-managed stock in 2017 did fairly well at grass, and were housed at target weights and, in many cases, heavier than budgeted for.

This will have a big influence on the finishing date.

Forage quality

Most of the forage conserved on beef farms in 2017 is not helping with good thrive in finishing cattle.

It is much lower in energy than required to contribute to an efficient finish.

With this in mind, many have looked at alternative feeds for their stock.

Beet was priced out of the market relative to grain, from earlier in the winter. Many are looking at ad-lib meal as the best option, where forages are sub-standard.

Concentrate quality

The vast majority of concentrate blends available this winter have been of excellent quality.

Cereals are still great value, and must make up a large percentage of any blend being fed to finishers.

Environment/shed facilities

Cattle that are housed too tightly will under-perform, that’s a given.

It will lead to poor access to feed and water, while increasing the incidence of injuries.

The type of bedding also has a huge bearing on performance. Ventilation and air flow will also affect lung function in intensively fed animals.

I have seen too many sheds this winter where cattle are packed into pens way too tight. It is impossible to get efficient weight gain with this environment, and it is also very unsafe, when herding stock.

Are you aware of ongoing animal performance?

Performance should be monitored closely, in order to establish if efficient finishing is being achieved.

It has become much more common for finishers to weigh their cattle at least twice during the finishing period.

Remember that the first weighing should only be done, once cattle are settled and on full feed.

Always weigh animals at the same time of day, for more accurate weights.

This will ensure that you have an accurate reflection of the performance being achieved from the diet being fed.

There is no point in changing a diet unless you know how the current one is performing.

Keeping an eye on intakes of cattle is a good indicator of performance..

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed with Holly Conroy of Ballymaloe Foods (festival sponsor) launching Ireland’s first National Burger Festival, taking place this week. Picture: Joleen Cronin

If you don’t manage intake you can’t manage output.

Variable intake from day to day is not a good sign, as it indicates digestive upsets, and/or unpalatable ingredients.

Feeding stock at regular intervals will help achieve better thrive, and it is critical that animals are not out of feed for very long each day.

Clean water is an important element, to maintain consistent intakes of feed.

Extra dry silages could actually depress feed intakes, particularly if in a TMR, resulting in stock sorting.

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