Sticking to the plan and implementing a finishing programme in Co. Meath

When we last visited Aidan Maguire – a farmer in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme – in April of this year, the Meath-based man was busy spreading fertiliser on land targeted for first-cut silage.

However, when AgriLand caught up with Aidan recently, all animals on the farm had been housed and a finishing programme was in full swing.

The Meath man runs a dairy calf-to-beef enterprise on the holding in conjunction with a contracting business. Prior to joining the programme, Aidan reared dairy calves and sold them as stores; however, all animals will be brought through to slaughter from now on.

As this is Aidan’s first time finishing cattle, both his dedicated programme advisor James Fitzgerald and local Teagasc advisor David Argue have put a finishing programme in place on the farm.

To complement this programme, a conscious effort was made during the summer months to harvest top-quality silage which would ensure good weight gains during the winter period for both weanlings and stores, while reducing the spend on supplemented feed.

This effort paid off; when silage samples were taken from the farm recently, first-cut silage came back with a 74.5% dry matter digestibility (DMD) value and at 14.2% crude protein. Additionally, second-cut silage has a DMD value of 72%, with a crude protein value of 14%.

However, even with this good-quality silage, it is not possible to finish animals on grass silage alone – some concentrate supplementation is needed. However, the better the quality of silage offered, the less concentrates required to finish animals.

At housing, all animals – weanlings, heifers and bullocks – were weighed and dosed. Starting with the steers, approximately 10 animals have been drafted out and are receiving a finishing concentrate that is balanced for energy, protein, minerals, fibre and starch – along with ad-lib silage.

These steers – a mix of Aberdeen Angus, Hereford and Friesian – will be slaughtered early January – at 24-28 months-of-age, aiming for 340-350kg carcass.

Another batch of steers, within the weight range of 520kg to 590kg, will be finished out of the shed at two years in March of next year.

The remaining batch will return to grass in spring 2020; these will be allowed to graze over the summer before slaughter at 28 months.

Turning to the male calves that were purchased in spring of this year, over 90% of these weanlings are on target. Aiming for a daily liveweight gain target of at least 0.6kg/day during the winter, these weanlings will receive 1kg/day of concentrate along with good-quality silage.

Those that are lagging that little bit behind will be fed silage and 2kg/day of concentrate to bring them up to target weight.

Moving on to the older group of heifers on the farm, a batch of approximately 30 animals are in a finishing programme, which will see them ready for slaughter in February and March of next year; these animals will be drafted based on weight and fat score – aiming for a 280kg carcass.

The remainder – those currently weighing under 430kg – will go back to grass in spring 2020.

Like their male comrades, the female calves purchased in spring 2019 are all on target; these will also receive good-quality silage along with 1kg/day of meal, aiming for at least 0.6kg/day until turnout in early spring (weather depending).

Also, to facilitate the finishing of animals, modifications were recently made to one of the slatted houses on the farm. The back wall of the house was cut out and replaced with feed barriers to allow more room for steers to feed.

Water troughs were also placed along the feed-face to supply fresh water to the cattle at all times.

In addition, Aidan also buys autumn-born dairy calves direct from dairy farmers in his locality – aiming for the 30-head mark. All going well, these animals will be joined by another 80 calves in spring 2020.