Advice for beef farmers: It pays to feed autumn born bulls well

Many farmers have Continental bulls which they intend to finish this autumn.

Most of these are approaching 12 months old, and must be fed on now, if they are to be slaughtered under 16 months.

Young bulls are doing well outside, if they are on good quality grass.

However, grass can only do so much for these bulls, and it needs to be supplemented with concentrates now.

If finishers want their cattle to finish at target weight, age and grade, then they must gain substantial weight every day of their lives.

Setbacks in thrive should be avoided at all costs. You must take maximum advantage of the hormonal effect of young bulls to optimise profit through efficient feed conversion efficiency.

What now for these bulls?

With current ground conditions being fairly good, it is likely that for many, the option of feeding bulls meal at grass will be explored.

Firstly, the paddocks the bulls are in must be dry, to minimise damage.

The correct feeding facilities must be available, to avoid injury to both man and bull. That means sturdy troughs. Or, if using ad-lib feeders, ensure they are bird proof.

For some farms, the easiest option may in fact be to bring bulls indoors and start finishing them.

* What do you need to get right?

* Are they grown well enough to start finishing?

* Cattle must have grown properly before being finished.

* What is your target market (what weight, age, and grade are required)?

* Are your facilities suitable for the feeding programme you have in mind?

* Is indoor or outdoor feeding your best option?

* What feeds are available to you, and what will they cost?

* What is the quality of the forage like?

It is critical that bulls don’t commence finishing until they have been grown correctly. 

If they are not grown properly, they may begin to grow again during the finishing period, resulting in poor conformation and kill out percentage.

This will also delay slaughter date, and incur extra costs, and perhaps age penalties.

Breed factors

All of the above factors also need to be considered in the context of what type of bull you have on your farm.

Continental types will have different maturity characteristics to dairy bred bulls.

In fact, in the final finishing phase, a larger percentage of thrive from continental bulls will be converted to actual carcass sold at slaughter.

Carcase Quality

It has consistently been seen that increasing the daily weight gain in the final months of finish will increase the conformation of the animal and the lean meat yield of the carcase.

While it’s not possible to perform miracles, it is possible to move a proportion of O plus grade animals to Rs, and Rs to U minus.

Without doubt, introducing maize meal for the final finish will improve carcase cover and grade.

The right diet?

When setting up a diet to achieve target weights in bulls, the total diet must have a high energy density, in excess of 12 ME, and 13%-14% crude protein per kilogram of dry matter.

Exact specifications are weight and breed dependent.

Ensure the ration contains sufficient fibre to maintain rumen function, and that there is clean fresh feed in front of the bulls for 22-23 hours per day.

Ideally, fresh feed should be provided every day, to encourage intakes.

Forage Quality

The forage used to finish bulls needs to be top quality.

Low-quality forages have absolutely no role in getting the final cover on bulls.

And good-quality forage can play a major role in reducing overall finishing costs, and can also provide an essential source of structural fibre.

Good-quality maize silage, wholecrop cereals and beet provide excellent forage energy sources for bulls, in conjunction with a balanced concentrate.


Ad-lib feeding of concentrates may be a more economical option for bull finishers, particularly if only poor quality silages are available. What does ad-lib mean? It’s very simple: The cattle must have access to meal 24-7. They must also have access to good quality clean straw, and water, at all times.

Ration Quality

Most meal providers have a bull beef ration in their list of feeds. The best concentrates for finishing bulls must include high levels of cereals in the form of barley, wheat, and maize meal.

Digestible fibre sources such as soya hulls and beet pulp are also important to maintain rumen function in these intensively fed animals.

Protein, while not required in large amounts for finishing bulls, is required to encourage intakes, and to balance the energy provided, for optimum weight gain.

Avoid where possible having filler ingredients high up the label. Ask your feed supplier for the UFL or ME value of the concentrate you are considering for your bulls.

A good-quality mineral spec is also important.

Most finishers may introduce straight maize meal to their current concentrate as a means of achieving the final cover on bulls, over the last 30-40 days.

Getting a good finish

If bulls are to realise optimum profits, they must be finished properly, with the right feed in the right environment.

A lot of the work has been done with these bulls, but now you must feed them well so that you can get paid the best price possible for your work.

In most cases, the high volume of concentrates for 100 days plus is unavoidable, if you want to reach the spec required.

Daily gain will depend very much on breed, age, feed quality, management and environment. Expect at least 1.5kg per day under ideal conditions for most bulls, with many able to achieve up to 2kg for a period.


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