By Richard Dudgeon, regional manager, Alltech, Northern Ireland

Many people will remember 2018 as a year of extreme weather challenges, including an extended winter and a very dry summer.

As a result of these abnormal events, many people are facing issues regarding forage supply and those fortunate enough to conserve enough forage are still not immune to what will be a costly year for finishing cattle.

We have also seen the price of straw and concentrate feeds increase to levels not seen over a number of years. This has led to reports of beef finishers not purchasing cattle and deciding to cash in on fodder they have in stock.

I was speaking to a farmer recently about this and he said: “The cattle will be there and someone will feed them.”

I would encourage every farm to consider their options this winter, especially which ones will make the best financial sense for their business.

For those who decide to finish cattle indoors this winter, the challenge – as ever – is to maximise performance, finish cattle faster and spend fewer days on-farm with a reduced feed bill.

To assist with this challenge, Alltech and its technical team have developed a unique beef programme that can help ensure your cattle reach target finishing weights up to 21 days faster.

With feed costs currently sitting around €280/t of dry matter (DM), a typical finishing diet for a 550kg finishing animal will cost approximately €3.10/day.

Finishing cattle 21 days faster will result in a feed cost savings of €65/head alone. Achieving this faster finish is no mean feat, and to do so, a number of points should be considered. The key points are summarised in our beef programme 10-point checklist below.

1. Defined finishing programme

Know your finishing system, the farm’s capabilities and what has worked well in the past. Purchase cattle that fit in with your system, feeds purchased and availability.

We are all aware of the end specifications required by processors; achieving the best beef price requires hitting these specifications.

2. Arrival period and procedure

The first three-to-four weeks of an animal’s time on your farm are of the utmost importance. Mixing with new cattle, dealing with changing surroundings and a new diet are all challenges.

Minimising these challenges and reducing the stress they put on your animals can help ensure they perform to their highest level. Separate housing and a specific arrival diet will lead to the best results.

3. Correct finishing period

Feeding for the shortest period possible to achieve the correct finish will ensure that your system is the most profitable.

It costs over four times as much to put on 1kg of fat as it does to put on 1kg of lean beef. Those finishing traditional breeds, such as Angus and Hereford, should be targeting 70 days or less to finish.

Continental breeds can be fed for longer periods of time, as they don’t lay down fat as fast. However – bear in mind – the longer animals spend on a finishing diet, the more their performance starts to decline.

As such, the target finishing period should be 80-100 days for heifers and steers and 120-140 days for bulls, depending on their age and weight.

4. Clean and accessible water

Water is one of the most important ingredients in any beef finishing programme. If water intakes are restricted due to dirty drinkers, the animal’s intake of concentrate and forage also declines.

Simply, if animals don’t eat enough, their energy intakes are reduced and their performance suffers. Clean the drinkers regularly and ensure they are properly accessible to animals in the pen.

5. Correct housing

Ensure that animals are not overstocked and – for those using traditional feeding practices – ensure that all animals can feed at once.

This helps reduce competition within the group and gorging on concentrate, ensuring that every animal has an equal opportunity to perform at maximum levels.

Anyone working with various bedding options should know that wet, dirty bedding does limit an animal’s performance. It will be a difficult year in this respect, with the higher price of bedding material like straw, but other options – including peat – are available.

6. Rumen health plan

The concept of being able to finish cattle 21 days earlier largely comes from better performance. In other words, making the rumen or stomach more efficient at converting the diet into weight gain.

From a nutritional perspective, rumen health is the single biggest challenge on farms. Confronting this challenge, as well as the conversion of feed into weight gain, necessitates providing optimum levels of forage.

We need this forage at the correct chop length, as well as utilising technologies like Yea-Sacc®, which has been scientifically proven to improve rumen health and lead to a 10% improvement in daily live weight gain (See reference table 1).

Table 1: The effect of Yea-Sacc® on daily live weight gain

7. Consistent diet

In beef finishing, consistency is key. Ensuring that animals cannot select between ingredients in their diet will also ensure that a more consistent level of performance is achieved within the group.

Additionally, providing animals with the same diet every day will protect against upsets to rumen health.

8. Animal health plan

The best animals can be fed the best nutrition programme, but if the animals are compromised with health challenges, targets still won’t be met.

As such, before any animals are purchased or moved indoors, a clear plan to deal with such issues as fluke, worms, lice (internal and external parasites) and respiratory disease should be put in place.

9. Balanced nutrition plan

Humans are not so different to animals in that, the more we eat, the more weight we are likely to gain  – especially if energy-dense feeds are included in our diets.

With finishing cattle, a balance must be struck that ensures a high-level of intake over a sustained period of time.

To do this, work with your nutritionist to incorporate the maximum amount of energy into your animals’ diet, balanced with a sufficient amount of protein, fibre and minerals.

10. Mould-free feeds

An issue that has been at the forefront recently is the effect moulds and toxins have on animal health and performance.

We now know more about moulds and toxins and the effects they can have on beef cattle, including such symptoms as: loose manure; poor performance; immunity issues; swollen legs; and higher incidence of lameness — all of which could seriously impact profitability.

Excluding mouldy feeds from the diet is a must; however, toxins can be present even when mould is not visible.

If you suspect toxins may be causing an issue on your farm, talk with your feed advisor, as they may be able to point you to labs that can run tests for toxins and for mycotoxin binders, which reduce their effects in the animal.

These are the 10 key areas to focus on to ensure that your cattle meet the 21 day faster finish challenge. Our team of technical representatives, based throughout Ireland, is available to discuss each of these areas with you further.

Alltech solutions are proven to help beef cattle achieve a higher health status and optimise feed use, resulting in increased and efficient weight gain, leading to a faster, younger finish.

More information

For more information, call the Alltech team today to plan your winter finishing diet at: +353 59 910 1320 or email: [email protected]