How can I get the most from my feed over the winter finishing period?

Although the outlook for winter finishing is challenging, farmers should ensure that their animals are on the correct diet.

Teagasc figures indicate that for a winter steer finisher to break-even – and just to break-even which is not a sustainable model of production – he/she would need a beef price of €4.21/kg.

Also Read: Can winter finishing deliver any margin for beef farmers in 2020?

If such a farmer was to target a modest margin of just €50/head, a beef price of €4.34/kg would be needed in the factory.

But this figure is a far cry from factory prices on offer today – 345c/kg for steers and 350-355c/kg for factory-fit heifers.

However, whether farmers are finishing traditional breeds or continental bulls, feeding animals for the shortest period possible – and achieving the correct finish – will leave more money in the farmers’ pocket.

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.

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.

Source: Teagasc

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.

Also Read: Beef farmers: Have you tested your silage?

The protein content should be sufficient for the growth rate of the animal, but also to balance the energy ingredients inside the feed.

In addition, a good source of digestible fibre will help reduce the risk of digestive upsets and it is important to keep the animal’s rumen healthy and to prevent the rumen from becoming too acidic.

Feed should be free from mould and toxins, as these have been linked to problems such as: poor performance; immunity problems; swollen legs; and higher incidence of lameness — all of which could seriously impact profitability.

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 a 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.

Liaising with your nutritionist ensures that the animals are on the correct diet in order to achieve optimum results and save you money in the long run.

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