Fast finish is most efficient

“What’s the least amount of meal I can get away with for finishing cattle this winter?"

This question has been prompted by the low price for cattle at the factories, and the assumption that silage in the pit is of good quality.

However those that have tested silage have found that the quality is generally poor, and it is not very palatable.

Hopefully, the price for finished cattle will rise (those who paid high prices for stores lately are depending on that).

With all of this in mind, it is worth considering your finishing strategy very closely.

Finishing cattle quickly is the most efficient way. The fewer days animals are on a finishing diet, the better they will convert their feed into saleable meat.

Concentrates represent excellent value this year, but must be of the correct type to balance available forages, to achieve the desired animal performance.

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

* Establish their current liveweight.

* What market are you targeting for your stock?

* What carcass weight?

* What conformation?

* Breed and sex will determine potential weight gain.

* What kind of housing will they be accommodated in?

* When do you want or need to slaughter them?

* 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.

Forage quality

I might sound like a broken record — but you really need to test your silage this year.

As I have mentioned here several times lately, 2014 silage is not of good quality on most farms, and your silage quality determines your feeding and management strategy for all stock this winter.

Many beef producers have unfortunately discovered the silage they have will be detrimental to animal performance rather than enhance it.

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.

Many silages are very acidic and wet this year, which may cause animals to throw up their cuds. This will need to be addressed by buffering the animal’s rumen, by physical and chemical means.

Incorporating straw into your diets will help promote cud chewing but, for many silages, this may not be enough.

Feeding an alkaline feed is a very effective method of buffering the rumen. There is now widespread availability of cereals preserved with ammonia that have a high pH (8.5-9.5), which do an excellent job of improving rumen health and enhancing nutrient utilisation.

Maize silage yields were excellent this year, so you may be able to allocate more per animal for the entire finishing period.

Other feeds

Beet yields around the country also seem very good. 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 (or potatoes) in finishing diets. Cattle get very upset, and intakes often collapse, delaying slaughter.

If you are buying beet, work out your costs relative to barley on a cost per tonne of dry matter basis, because beet can easily be overpriced compared to the good value available in cereals this winter.

Alternative feeds such as brewers and distillers seem to be in plentiful supply, and are trading at excellent value-for-money prices. Where available, they are excellent to promote intakes, and they also provide a source of protein for growing and finishing stock.

Liquid feeds and molasses were commonly used on many farms over the last few years, and they undoubtedly enhance palatability and forage intake. Liquid feeds provide high energy, mostly from sugar sources, and some also provide high levels of protein. If your silage is poor and unpalatable, these will help improve intakes in your stock, and get maximum value from your home-grown feed.

Cereal-based diets

Many producers are attempting to finish cattle on rolled cereals alone. This is very difficult, because not enough protein will be supplied to the animals. Remember, meat is protein, and it can’t be deposited on animals if the dietary protein is insufficient. Cereals preserved using ammonia — as mentioned above — will in most instances provide sufficient protein for finishers, while not causing the acidosis associated with feeding high levels of dry or acid-treated cereals.


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.


Many farmers are under the impression that finishing animals don’t need minerals.

This is so far from reality. 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.


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