Much to gain in the final months of cattle finishing

Many farmers now have cattle in sheds that are close to finish after winter feeding. They are looking closely at the price of cattle, in the mart and the factories.

What is the best thing to do? If cattle are to realise optimum profits, they must be finished properly.

What stage are cattle currently at? Given that we had such a mild back end to 2011, many cattle may not have entered sheds until well into November.

Many cattle intended for finishing this winter are now entering the final stages of finishing — where the profit margins are determined. Getting a good final finish on your cattle will decide your grade and pricing.

It has consistently been seen that increasing the daily weight gain in the final months of finish will improve the conformation of the animal and the lean meat yield of the carcase. While it’s not possible to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, it is possible to move a proportion of O+ cattle to R, and R cattle to the U- grade.

The natural growth cycle of any animal is skeleton first, then muscle, and finally fat. Once the frame is established, the amount of weight gain the animal achieves is dependent on sex, breed and genetic potential. Other key factors are health, comfort, feed quality, feed availability, and feed conversion efficiency.

It is crucial that the final finishing of an animal does not commence until it has been grown properly.

What is the right diet? When setting up a diet to achieve target weights, ensure the total diet has a high energy density of 11.5 to 12.0 MJ, and 13 to 14% crude protein per kg of dry matter. These specifications are both breed and sex dependent.

Ensure that the ration contains sufficient fibre to maintain rumen function, and that there is clean fresh feed in front of the animals for 22 to 23 hours per day. Ideally, fresh feed should be provided every day to encourage intakes.

Water is also a critical element to get right when you ramp up feeding for finishers. It should be clean and in plentiful supply. If cattle don’t drink, they don’t eat, and if they don’t eat, they don’t thrive.

Forage quality

The source of forage used to finish cattle needs to be considered closely. Low quality forages have very little role in getting the final cover on cattle, other than providing an essential source of fibre. However, a good quality forage can play a major role in reducing finishing costs.

Ad-lib feeding of concentrates may be a more economical option for finishers if only poor quality silages are available. Poor silages slow down finishing and result in cattle finishing slower, and very inefficiently.

Good quality maize silage, wholecrop cereals and beet provide excellent forage energy sources for finishers, in conjunction with balanced concentrates.

Environment

It may be obvious, but do your cattle have enough space in the shed to achieve optimum performance?

They may have fit fine on the day they were put in, but they have grown a lot since then. Can they all lie down, and can they get to their feed without having to walk all over their comrades? Make sure ventilation is adequate.

The key to any successful beef finishing system is to allow the animal on feed to meet the market requirements at the earliest possible opportunity, while maximising your returns efficiently.

* Independent dairy and beef nutrition consultant Brian Reidy, Premier Farm Nutrition, can be contacted at brian@pfn.ie


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