Ration selection: Are your finishing cattle on the correct diet?

With cattle now housed for the winter period, and finishing in full swing across the country, farmers should ensure that their animals are on the correct diet.

Farmers buying winter feed need to look out for a number of ingredients and nutritive values. The single most important determinant of live weight gain in finishing cattle is energy.

Beef animals need to be fed an energy-dense diet ensuring rapid growth. By feeding the correct ration, animals add meat to their frame and optimise fat cover before slaughter.

Providing the correct ration is not only vital for ensuring the animal reaches correct growth targets, but it also plays an important role in keeping feeding costs to a minimum. Concentrate rations can be expensive and animals on an intense feeding regime need to be fed efficiently. This will result in the animal being finished quicker.

According to Teagasc, the energy value in concentrate mixes for high levels of performance should contain a minimum value of 0.92UFV/kg for finishing cattle.

Another important factor is the protein content of the ration. It is important to note that the protein requirement of the animal will depend on the quality of silage being fed. Therefore, it is important for farmers to test the quality of their silage.

In addition, a good source of digestible fibre –  such as soya hulls – will help reduce the risk of digestive upsets.

Source: Teagasc

Recent research has shown that maize grain has a higher nutritive value compared to barley. And, for this reason, it should be included in cattle rations to increase performance.

There is evidence to suggest that the rate of fat deposition increases at higher rates of maize inclusion. This could potentially allow for an earlier finish to be achieved.

However, barley should not be replaced by maize grain. Research has indicated that animals that were fed a ration that contained maize grain instead of barley had lower carcass growths and inconsistent levels of carcass fat.

Beef finishers should always ask for more information on the nutrient content of the ration – particularly the energy, protein, mineral and fibre values. Farmers are also advised to shop around, as there can be a lot of variation in price – the cheapest ration mix may not be the best value.

It must be noted that high-protein concentrate mixes do not always have a high-energy content. For example, the energy content of an 14% crude protein concentrate mix could be higher than in an 18% crude protein ration.

Farmers should also check the mineral content of the ration to ensure cattle are receiving sufficient levels. As with all intense, high-energy diets, a fresh supply of water should always be readily available to the animal.