Beef finishers should always aim to keep meat production costs under control.
A common question is, “How much meal do you need to finish cattle this winter”?
This question is relevant every year, but this year in particular, two factors stand out — the price of cereals is very competitive, and there is a plentiful supply of silage in most yards.
With this in mind, getting the balance right for optimum performance may not always be achieved, because many may feed too much forage and not enough concentrates to get the desired finish.
Good quality high-energy concentrates are excellent value, and present an opportunity this autumn and winter.
Even with plenty of silage around, it may be a much better option to feed high levels of concentrates to finish cattle quickly.
Hopefully, demand for finished cattle will be good for the rest of 2015, and efficient finishing should give a good return.
Finishers on grass
Grass quality is decreasing rapidly. 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.
After recent wet weather, dry matter intakes from grass have dropped further.
It is a good idea to feed some concentrates to finishers prior to housing. Many are considering housing finishers sooner rather than later, to prevent them from going backwards. Once is enough to put weight on cattle.
First, set out your goals for finishing cattle.
Establish their current liveweight. 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 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? You really need to test your silage. Your silage quality determines your feeding and management strategy for all stock this winter.
Some beef farmers have discovered their silage is not as good as they expected, but is still well ahead of 2014.
Some have very dry silage this year, which has not preserved very well. This silage will need very careful management at feed-out.
Your animal’s ability to consume silage in large volumes will be the first factor to consider.
All silage analyses now have an intake figure which will give you an indication of the amount of dry matter which can be eaten by particular types of stock.
This intake figure will be determined mostly by preservation characteristics and energy/fibre content.
Maize silage looks like producing lower volumes than in recent years, and many crops will be harvested a little later than usual. Those sown under plastic look like producing good quality.
What other forages are available to you? Maize silage will be harvested over the next month or six 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 gett value for your money (it must be ripe, for optimum feed value.
Beet yields around the country look very promising. If you are buying or have grown your own beet, work out your tonnage available and 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.
Alternative feeds such as brewers and distillers grains seem to be available at present, and are excellent feeds to promote intakes, they also provide a source of protein for finishing stock.
Fibre is an essential element in all ruminant diets. If you are feeding meal ad-lib, it is crucial that clean, dry and palatable straw is provided at all times.
Basic 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. It is never a good idea to feed finishing animals without providing a good quality mineral supplement.
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. Look for mixes high in cereals, as starch will improve finish and fat cover.
Introduce concentrates gradually to finishers in order to prevent digestive upsets, such as acidosis. Maintaining a healthy rumen pH is critical if you want to achieve good animal health and performance.
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