Dosing, storing, growing and finishing among winter tasks

Most beef farmers will be housing cattle over the coming weeks, around the country.


There is still plenty of grass around, but growth has slowed significantly. After fantastic weather in the last few weeks, few cattle have been housed yet.

Thankfully, cattle are much more advanced than this time last year. It has been a great year for grass, and animals have thrived very well up until now.

However, it is important to realise that the grass being grazed at this stage of the year will not support much weight gain in stock destined for finish this winter, unless it is being supplemented with concentrates.

For many, the best option now is to house advanced cattle to achieve the desired performance.

Feeding strategies on beef farms

What do you want to achieve with your stock over the housed period?

  • Grow before finishing
  • Grow for breeding
  • Store to return to grass
  • Start immediate finish
  • Produce enough milk to rear a calf
  • Maintain a dry suckler cow.
  • How can you get the very best out of the available ingredients on your farm?

Set targets for all stock being housed.

  • What feeds are available, at value prices, to balance your home-grown feeds?

Remember that silages are not as good as expected this year, so watch for palatability issues which could significantly depress intakes.

  • What dosing programme should be used for stock?

It is important to consult with animal health experts in order to put the most appropriate parasite control programme in place on your farm.

Fluke and worms are very common in all types of stock, according to dung and milk sample analysis results.

If in doubt, get tests done on your herd.

Don’t just assume that because we had a dry year, parasites are not present.

  • What vaccination programme are you using in your herd?

Storing cattle

Cattle destined for a return to grass next spring need to be kept ticking over while indoors.

The aim for these cattle indoors is to complete frame growth and set them up for optimum grass intake and utilisation once they are turned out next spring.

These cattle need to be well prepared for a finishing period on grass.

Traditionally, they DO not require much concentrates where silage quality is good.

Don’t just assume this though; establish silage quality first.

Finishing Cattle

Obviously the sex, age and target carcass weight of the stock to be finished will determine the nutrition strategy suitable this winter.

The correct feeding strategy must be coupled with the economics required to turn an acceptable profit.

Remember that for many, a hard and fast finish may realise the best returns.

One thing which should be avoided is feeding lower than required levels of concentrates to finishers.

This will just result in a longer finishing period, and ultimately higher costs due to increased forage usage, increased labour, lower throughput, and out-of-age or out-of-spec cattle.

Try to include as many good quality ingredients as possible in concentrates being fed.

Look for cereals to be near the top of the label as they are the cheapest and highest energy feeds available this winter.

Sucklers with Calves

Many silages will require some supplementation to keep sucklers from losing excessive weight in early lactation, and to aid them going back in calf.

Fresh calved cows’ intakes should be monitored carefully, to make sure that they can produce sufficient milk for their calf and go back in calf easily.

Dry sucklers

These cows should be grouped by body condition and fed accordingly.

Thinner suckler cows and first calvers should be fed to gain weight in the far-off dry period, up to five weeks before calving.

Silage results are critical in order to devise feeding strategies for dry suckler cows.

A correct feeding strategy will have a huge influence on reducing the metabolic disorders associated with calving, and preventing un-necessary calving difficulties.

Cows fed appropriate levels of energy and a balanced mineral in the dry period produce better quality colostrum, resulting in improved antibody transfer to their calf.

This in turn will reduce calf illness in early life.

Growing young stock indoors

To grow young stock indoors successfully, you must provide them with appropriate levels of protein and digestible fibre.

Most silages are between 10 and 14% protein this year.

As a result, a 16% blend will be too low in protein for many growing stock, when fed at the usual 2kg.

Underfeeding protein will depress intakes, resulting in stock not consuming sufficient energy to maintain target growth rates.

For stock being fed to grow before breeding, it is critical that they have size and frame rather than weight.


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