Beef Feeding Focus – Top Tips to remember this winter

Getting the most efficient beef feeding regime to suit your farm and your animal’s needs is a battle every farmer faces. With winter just around the corner it’s important to remember a few key points:

Housing Beef Animals – make sure that all cattle have adequate, dry space to lie down with ample ventilation and airflow. It is important to match cattle of equal size and weigh in pens together to avoid bullying. Avoid overcrowding in pens also as both these factors will dramatically decrease live weight gain (LWG).  Shaving down the cattle’s back reduces body temperature therefore increasing feed intake.

Water – access to adequate clean water is vital. A beef bull at 300kg will drink between 25-30 litres of water per day. A 600kg beef bull will drink 30-60 litres per day and up to an additional 70 litres a day, depending on concentrates.

Dosing – a regular dosing programme is of key importance. Cattle should be dosed for worms 2 to 3 weeks prior to housing, this will minimise the risks of lungworms causing pneumonia. Cattle should also be dosed 3 to 4 weeks after housing for fluke, worms and lice.

Energy – energy intake is the determining factor in live weight gain in cattle. Energy is crucial and it’s important to choose a ration as high in energy as possible (i.e. as close to 1UFL as possible). High DMD silage, maize silage and beet can also be included. Depending on age a typical fattening diet will be very high in energy with an average protein of 13% across the diet, as maize and beet are low in protein it is necessary to bring up the protein to balance the diet. 20kg of beet is the equivalent to 4.5kg of concentrate. Maize and beet are low in phosphorus and protein, therefore it is important to supplement these in the diet.

Protein – there is a lot of confusion over what is the correct amount of crude protein to be fed to cattle. It is recommended to feed crude protein between 12%-14% depending on sex, breed and maturity rate for finishing cattle and 14%-16% for growing cattle. This seems quite low, but it is more important to get usable protein into the diet. Energy, Fibre and Protein are the 3 main constituents of the diet.

Fibre – lack of adequate fibre in the diet is often the reason we encounter problems such as acidosis, lameness and in extreme cases even joint ill. At least 10%-15% of the diet needs to be fibre. Ideally, silage should be at least 72 DMD for a finishing system. Chopped straw is considered a necessity in an ad lib diet. Optimal straw chop length is 30mm –50mm. Chopping straw will reduce feed sorting and wastage. Chopped straw aids to lower PH levels in the rumen and therefore stimulating digestion and optimising feed intake. A minimum of 1-2kg of straw is essential in any ad lib diet.

Feeding Rate – Diet changes should be gradually introduced over a 3-week time frame, to allow rumen microbes to adapt. Start at 3kg per head per day of concentrate or cereals and step it up by 1kg every 3 days, as long as cattle aren’t showing any sign of digestive disturbance, until you reach the desired maximum feeding level. A buffer or yeast is a good insurance in a diet but is no substitution for good management. Keeping a watchful eye for any digestive disturbances is essential. In general, the level of concentrates fed will depend on how fast you intend on finishing your cattle so typically fattening cattle will eat between 5-10kg concentrates per day or ad lib meal with straw for a fast finish. Growing cattle are generally fed 2kg per day or even less with silage at 70+ DMD. Concentrate can be reduced and maybe even cut down to zero with high quality silage a month or so before being turned out as weanlings, as weanlings will have compensatory growth when they hit the grass in spring.

Grass Silage Quality – Silage testing is vital in order to calculate the required concentrate supplementation. The level of concentrates that will need to be supplemented will vary depending on the DMD of the silage. With every decrease of 5 DMD an extra 1kg of concentrate supplementation is require. If for example you have a Charolais bullock with a target live weight gain of 1kg per day feeding 72 DMD silage you will require 5-5.5kg of concentrates per day supplementation. Whereas, if you had a poorer quality silage of 64 DMD, the concentrate supplementation would be as high 8.5kg. Silage testing allows you to provide the most economical and nutritional diet available.

Target Live Weight Gain – It is important to know what you are working toward, when choosing any diet. In a typical silage and meal diet, the table below shows targeted live weight gain.

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tractor mowing grass silage

Maximising Grass and Silage Growth

Over the past number of weeks, we have experienced very little grass growth due to a 75mm soil moisture deficit. Growth rates in this area dropped to around 30kg DM/ha which led to a lot of animals receiving a buffer feed. Luckily, we have got a welcome dash of rain over the past few days which in the presence of available nutrients has brought growth levels back up to 90kg DM/ha. As we are all starting from low farm covers, we need to maximise growth to deal with the recent shortfall of grass production. First cut silage has also been affected by drought conditions with 25-30% reduction in yields being reported locally. The quality of this first cut silage should be very good and most crops were saved in great conditions.

Grazing ground

Nitrogen N

Paddocks that have received nitrogen in the past few weeks should take this up now. Fields that have not been spread for over 3 to 4 weeks should get nitrogen immediately. The increased growth after the rain should enable 2 units a day to be taken up.

Phosphorous P

P is a key driver of growth, root development, and grass tillering. Available P will help stressed plants recover and promote water and nutrient uptake. In addition, it will promote grass tiller development to help swards recover after the dry spell. Therefore, apply low to medium rates of P in your next fertiliser application. Low index soils will require larger amounts of P depending on when they last received it. Earlier spring applications of P in low index ground will need to be topped up at this stage as P is locked up in these soils.

Potassium K

K has a major role to play in the uptake and regulation of water within the plant. Now more than ever sufficient levels of soil available and applied K will be essential for the plants to withstand drought and aid rapid recovery. K at sufficient levels will keep good quality leaf in the grass and stop it from droughting out, pushing up a seed head and going to stem. Stem has one third less feed value to the cow as green leaf.

Sulphur S

Sulphur increases the efficiency of N uptake which is very important at this time of the year. Sulphur aids in plant protein production and therefore grass that has sulphur will remain higher in protein and retain feeding quality later into the season. Sulphur should be a part of all fertiliser applications. In most cases an application of a compound containing N P K S will be the best solution to get farm covers back up where they need to be. Take the full advantage of the growth while we have it to build up much needed reserves.

Silage ground

The present damp dull weather makes it ideal for slurry applications. Most slurry spread during the dry spell will have lost all its nitrogen content. It is important to know your offtake when it comes to spreading your second cut silage, with each tonne of dry matter removing 25 kg (20 units) of N, 4 kg (3 units) of P, 25 kg (20 units) of K and 4 kg (3 units) of S. In low index P we must add 10 kg (8 units) per index lower than 3 and in low index K 30 kg (24 units) per index lower than 3. In general, we are low in sulphur so as a rule of thumb it is best apply 15 to 20 units per acre for your second cut. A 3 tonne DM/ha crop on an index 3, 3 will take 75N 12P 75K and 12 to 15 S out of your soil.


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