Advice for beef farmers: Can your 500kg bullock eat more than 70kg of fresh grass per day?

Grass supply has become an issue for many beef and dairy producers over the last week.

Those who are measuring grass have seen excellent growth rates recently, but conditions for grass utilisation have become less than ideal.

Some had seen growth rates well over 50kg/ha, which is mainly due to soil being three degrees warmer than the same time last year.

Some on heavier soils are having difficulty supplying suckler cows and bigger cattle with sufficient grass without doing damage.

Some fields will only allow lighter stock to travel without severe poaching occurring.

Remember, if you damage ground from now on, you won’t graze that paddock until 2017, and will hasten the start of winter feeding.

Grass quality looks great around the country — but the quality has gone out of it. Grass this week is not much more than 12%-13% dry matter. This means stock must eat a lot of grass before they get in sufficient dry matter.

It is very noticeable how dungs have got very loose recently, as grass is passing through animals undigested, due to a lack of fibre and dry matter.

We are now in September and every year, grass gets soft and low in dry matter at this time of year.

Animals are literally flying through grazing swards.

Paddocks that look to have good volumes of grass are being consumed quicker than expected.

Beef cattle will consume approximately 2% of their own bodyweight in dry matter each day, so a 500kg bullock will require more than 70kg of fresh grass. It’s a lot to expect in a 24-hour period.

Beef and dairy stock are beginning to look a little bit empty lately. Dairy farmers are starting to see milk yields slip more than normally accepted, if they have not increased supplementation.

Given this trend, it is fair to assume that beef performance is also slipping, if animals are on similar pastures.

Supplementing grass for weanlings

At this stage of the year, in order to stretch grass supply, the best practice is to begin supplementing younger animals at grass.

Firstly, they are the animals who require the least dry matter, so a little concentrate will go a long way to satisfying their requirements.

Secondly, they do the least damage around the troughs when being fed.

Thirdly, they represent the least physical threat to the farmer when feeding them outside. More mature stock could inflict serious injury if being fed outdoors.

Beef bulls

Autumn 2015 calves are now 12 months old, and should be close to housing, regardless of their final slaughter age.

Young bulls that you need to perform well from now on really have no business outside at this stage, particularly with the poorer weather we have had.

For a 16-month finish, they need to be pushed on from now.

For older finishing, they should be brought in for further growing before finish.

Feeding these bulls outdoors at this time of year will not maintain desirable thrive and, depending on the equipment available, may be too dangerous.

Once indoors, it is critical that they are on a suitable diet for their size and age.

One of my pet hates is seeing electric fence strewn overhead in bull pens.

It really shouldn’t be necessary if the nutrition is appropriate for the bulls. Bulls fed properly are extremely content, and spend most of their time snoozing.

Unhappy bulls will fight and jump on each other.

Seek expert nutritional advice for these bulls, to optimise returns.

Housed recently?

For those who have had to house stock in the last number of weeks, the decision they must make is when or if they should be turned back out?

The answer will depend on so many factors.

* Should they remain inside, and should finishing commence?

* What feed stocks are available?

* Will more fodder be saved before winter by keeping stock in?

* Can slurry tanks cope?

Establish feed requirements

As the autumn creeps in and daylight hours are getting shorter, much of the fodder that will be saved has already been saved, or soon will be.

At this stage, it is time to again reassess your feed budget for the winter.

The sooner this is done, the sooner you can deal with deficits, or put your mind at ease that you will be OK for feed.

Either way, get help and do your sums ASAP.


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