Advice for beef farmers: Summer in the shed looks best for young bull beef

A combination of a shortage of grass and/or a shortage of available land has seen a lot of young bulls being finished indoors.

Both dairy bred and continental bulls are on heavy finishing diets at present, with an aim of slaughter under 16 months.

If you want these cattle to finish at target weight, target age and target grade, 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 optimum feed efficiency.

Outdoors or indoors

With many farms finding grass in low supply these days, it is likely that for most the option of feeding bulls meal at grass is a difficult one to implement.

For many, the easiest option may in fact be to bring them inside and start finishing them.

Once you have bulls in the shed:

Are they grown well enough to start finishing?

What is your target market, weight, age, or grade?

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

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

What is the quality of the available forage?

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

If they are not grown properly, they may begin a growth spurt during the finishing period, resulting in poor conformation and kill out percentage.

Carcase Grade

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+ animals to R, and Rs to U- animals.

What is the best diet?

When deciding on a diet to achieve target weights in bulls, ensure the total diet has a high energy density, and don’t over feed protein per kg of dry matter.

Exact specifications are weight and breed specific.

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

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

Forage Quality

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

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

However, good quality forage can play a major role in reducing overall finishing costs.

They can also provide an essential source of structural fibre. 

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

Ad-lib feeding

Ad-lib feeding of concentrates may be a more economical option for bull finishers, if only poor silages are available.

Many get confused with the term ad-lib.

It can be described simply as the cattle must have access to meal 24-7. They must also have access to good quality clean straw at all times. 

Hay is a poor substitute for straw, as it does not promote optimum rumen function, depressing intakes and ultimate weight gains in bulls.

Meal Quality

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 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 meal providers have a bull beef ration in their portfolio. Many 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.

Acidosis risk

Managing the acidosis risk is very important in intensively fed stock. For the past few year,s many intensive finishers have moved to feeding alkaline-treated cereals, which have a high pH and prevent acidosis, while improving energy intakes safely.


Water is also a critical element to get right when you step up feeding for bulls.

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.


It may be obvious, but make sure that your cattle have enough space in the shed to achieve optimum performance.

They must all be able to lie down and get to their feed without having to walk all over their comrades.

Make sure that there is adequate ventilation.

An electric fence over bulls in sheds should not be required if they are fed and managed correctly.

Unhappy bulls will fight and mount each other, resulting in poor thrive, stress and injury.

Bull calves for 2017 finish

Bull calves born this spring that are to be finished in 2017 need to be pushed on every day to achieve targets.

If they are weaned, they should ideally remain on 2 kg of meal per day at grass until housing later this year. Some will actually remain indoors on a straw and meal based diet which can be very effective from a cost and performance point of view if managed properly.


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