Finisher cattle generally not thriving very well due to quality of forages

Cattle to be killed out of the sheds this spring are in most cases indoors 60 to 70 days, if not longer.

Finishers in general are not thriving very well this winter due to the average quality of forages.

Given the current beef trade, no producer can afford poor performance.

Animal performance needs to be improved by increasing ration energy density.

For most, this will mean increasing concentrate feeding significantly.

Unfortunately, silages produced in 2015 are not feeding very well, and will need to be significantly reduced or, in some cases, eliminated from rations.

Assessing finishing stock

How close cattle are to slaughter will depend on many factors, such as the following.

Breed:

obviously, some breeds will finish quicker than others.

The likes of Herefords and Angus would tend to be earlier maturing breeds and will tend to go over fat if fed for too long.

The key for these is a short intensive finish, once fully grown.

Continental breeds are later maturing, and will require a longer intensive finishing period.

Heifer/Bull/Steer:

it is well accepted that efficiently managed heifers and bulls will finish much younger than steers.

Obviously, in the current climate, it is essential that bulls are slaughtered under 16 months, in order to meet market specifications.

Achieving this target will require a well thought out strategy from an early age.

Age:

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

Weight at housing:

most well-managed stock in 2015 entered sheds in great order and more advanced than in previous years.

This will have a large influence on finishing date.

Forage Quality:

most of the silages saved in 2015 are not helping with thrive in finishing cattle.

Concentrate Quality:

due to the price of raw materials, the vast majority of concentrate blends available this winter have been of excellent quality. Most are high in good quality native cereals.

Environment:

cattle housed too tightly will under-perform hugely.

Overcrowding will lead to poor access to feed, and increased injuries.

The type of bedding also has a huge bearing on performance.

Slat mats are becoming more common on farms, and they certainly improve comfort and reduce injuries.

Ventilation and air flow are also important factors which can affect lung function in intensively fed animals.

Healthy and content animals always perform better.

Parasite Control:

lice are a huge irritant to cattle indoors, and are still a major problem in many yards.

Most will need to treat for a second time this winter.

Monitoring 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 occur 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.

Feed intake

The feed intake of cattle is a good indicator of performance.

Variable intakes from day to day are not a good sign, indicating digestive upset and/or unpalatable ingredients.

Poor accuracy in feeding stock will also be detrimental to animal performance.

Feed the same ingredients each day in the same proportions, at the same time, where possible.

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.

Cattle perform best when they have a regular routine.

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

Potential intakes should be determined as a percentage of the live weight of the animals being fed.

This figure will depend on the age, weight and sex of the animals.

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

It helps to moisten these particular mixes with the addition of water.

Final Push

Don’t be afraid to change your cattle’s diet to step up finish in the last 40-45 days.

This for most will mean going to ad-lib ration, or very close to it.

This strategy will for certain optimise grade and fat cover.


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