Weigh up grazing season progress

It is only the middle of June, and housing stock for next winter is the last thing on most people’s mind.

However, you really need to plan ahead to have stock on target for your intended market or purpose.

Grass quality is a critical factor in achieving these targets. Well in advance of housing is when you need to decide if stock are to be housed for finish or for further storing with a view to selling them next spring.

Planning for second cut

First cut grass silage is in the pit on most farms. At this stage, you have determined the quality of the base feed that you will feed for all of next winter.

The quality of what is in the pit is already determined, by your sward quality, fertiliser application, weed control, soil fertility and cutting date etc.

For second cut silage, it is important on most farms to apply some P & K, because silage takes a lot out of ground.

If you are not allowed to apply artificial P or K, then you must utilise slurry, where it is practical to do so.

Nitrogen application for the second cut should relate to the intended cutting date, based on using 1.5 to 2 units per day, depending on growth rates, weather, sward age, soil fertility etc.

So, silage quality is now determined for next winter, and attention must be turned towards the stock that will be fed this silage over the winter, as the base of their diet.

Steers and heifers to be finished once they go indoors in October or November need to be at suitable weights for finishing, when entering the shed. Aim to achieve optimum weight gains between now and housing. Those gains will be determined by sex, breed, age, grass quality, parasite control and weather conditions.

Ensure you take control of the elements on this list that you can influence, namely grass quality and parasite control.

Feeding cattle next winter does not begin the day they are housed. You must reach target weights for housing.

So, what targets should you set for your stock?

Target daily live weight gains of 0.8-1.2kg per head per day for bulls or steers, and 0.7-0.9kg for heifers on grass, between now and housing.

Something else worth considering is the target market you wish to supply, if you are finishing cattle. Establish with your factory the required age, grade and weight which will optimise returns from your stock. This information should be gathered before any plan is put in place.

Factors influencing live weight gain from grass

If grass quality is poor, you need to address it quickly, or it will be poor for the rest of the season. Beef animals of all types will consume about 2% of their body weight in dry matter each day. Early maturing breeds (Angus and Hereford) will eat a slightly higher percentage of bodyweight.

Weanlings/stores on grazed grass will generally not need supplementation, as long as grass quality is kept right.

But if you try to get these animals to graze covers that are too strong, you will not achieve target gains, due to insufficient energy intake.

If your grass quality is poor, and perhaps you are also short of grass, then, in order to achieve target weight gains, you may well need to feed meal. If you don’t feed during a period of energy deficit, it will be very hard for animals to catch up to weight targets.

Parasite control is also worth getting right. Get advice from an animal health expert on what parasite control programme might work best on your farm. This should be based on the history of the farm and land type.

If you have evidence of infestation based on recent slaughter records, don’t ignore it. The wet weather conditions we had earlier this year were ideal for parasites.

Grouping uneven stock

Where you have animals of varying sizes, weights and ages, but intend on feeding them the same once indoors, you should consider splitting them. You can then push the lighter ones with some concentrate, so that the whole group will be more even at housing.

There is no point in putting animals that are too small to finish on a finishing diet. Animals must be grown properly before they can be finished properly.

If the grass is wrong, try to get it right, and if the weather is wrong, and cattle can’t eat enough grass, supplement it. Many farms now have a weighing scales or have access to one locally, so establishing accurate weights should not be that difficult.


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