Advice for beef farmers: DMD and energy disappointing in most 2016 silage tests

At the ploughing this week, most farmers are discussing the prices of milk and beef.

The milk producer is looking forward to a rise in price over the coming months, while the beef producer is not so upbeat.

Factory prices continue to creep downwards, which is bad news for weanling and store producers as well as the end finisher.

Producers are asking about options for finishing cattle this winter.

This question has been prompted by the low price of cereals, coupled with a plentiful supply of silage in most cases.

Farmers are anxious to keep costs down, due to the currently weakening beef prices.

Good quality, high-energy concentrates are excellent value, and represent an opportunity this autumn/winter.

For many, it may be a much better option to feed high levels of concentrates to finish cattle quickly.

At this stage of the year, grass quality has decreased rapidly, and is no longer feeding as well as earlier in the year.

While the grass is dry to touch, it is in fact low in dry matter at present, and its energy content has also dropped significantly. It is also low in physical fibre.

Given that this is the case, it is a good idea to feed some concentrates to finishers prior to housing.

Many are considering housing finishers sooner rather than later, in order to prevent them from going backwards.

Once is enough to put weight on cattle.

Advice for beef farmers: DMD and energy disappointing in most 2016 silage tests

Performance Requirements

The first thing to do with finishing cattle is to set out your goals for them.

* You need to establish what their current live weight is.

* What market are you targeting for your stock?

* What carcass weight is required?

* Are there weight restrictions?

* What conformation is required?

* Breed and sex will determine their potential weight gain.

* What type of housing will they be accommodated in?

* When do you want or need to slaughter them?

* Are there age restrictions?

Aim for a fast finish rather than a long, drawn-out finish.

Cattle go stale if they are on feeding for too long.

Above all, make sure that you set realistic performance goals for your cattle.

What is your forage quality like?

Unfortunately, silage tested this year is not painting a pretty picture.

DMD and energy values are disappointing in the vast majority of cases.

Many in this day and age still don’t test their silage.

In order to do accurate diets for your stock, you really need to test your silage.

As I have often mentioned, your silage quality will determine your feeding and management strategy for all stock this winter.

Your animal’s ability to consume silage in large volumes will be the first factor to consider. 

All silage analyses now include an intake figure which will give you an indication of the amount of dry matter which can be eaten by particular types of stock.

What other forages and feeds are available to you?

Maize silage will be harvested over the coming weeks.

If you are growing it yourself, make sure it is fit to cut before you let the harvester into the field.

If you are buying it, make sure you are getting value for your money; it must be ripe, so that its feed value is at its optimum level.

Beet yields around the country also look good.

If you are buying or have grown your own beet, then work out your tonnage available and again spread it out over the entire feeding season.

There is nothing worse than running out of beet in finishing diets.

Cattle will get very upset, and intakes often collapse, resulting in delayed slaughter.

Food industry by-products such as bread and biscuits have been available in the past to beef finishers in this country.

They are very high in energy, and great for putting cover on cattle.

Care should be taken to prevent digestive upsets by over-feeding these products.

Cereal based diets

Many producers are attempting to finish cattle on rolled cereals alone.

This is very difficult to do, as not enough protein will be supplied to the animals.

Remember that meat is protein, so it can’t be deposited on animals if the dietary protein is insufficient.

Cereals preserved using ammonia preservation methods will in most instances provide sufficient protein for finishers.

Providing sufficient protein to finishers will encourage intakes, which increase overall energy intake and speed up weight gains.

Providing fibre

Fibre is an essential element in all ruminant diets. For ad-lib feeding, it is crucial that clean, dry and palatable straw is provided at all times.


Macro mineral elements such as calcium, phosphorous and sodium are essential for basic functions such as saliva production for rumen buffering.

Minerals and vitamins help to manufacture vital enzymes which aid thorough feed digestion and influence animal performance and feed efficiency.

Compound feeding

When purchasing compound feed for finishing stock, it is important that it has high energy.

Ask your supplier to give you a list of ingredients and get the UFL or ME value of the mix before purchasing.

The higher the energy, the quicker the finish.

Buying cheaper concentrates with poorer filler ingredients will delay finish, andwill increase overall costs and reduce profit margins.

READ MORE: The Irish Examiner / ICMSA farming survey: Methodology 

Find more on the Irish Examiner ICMSA farming survey HERE


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