Setting targets to get the most from your stock at finishing

Fast-finishing periods with high-energy diets are more efficient but breed and sex will determine their potential weight gain and carcass characteristics, writes ruminant nutritionist Brian Reidy.
Setting targets to get the most from your stock at finishing

Weighing your cattle is the first step to setting finishing targets for your stock.

Keeping costs down while delivering the appropriate diet requires careful planning in any yard finishing cattle. With the price of compound feed still relatively high, every effort will need to be made to keep costs under control. Protein sources have increased in price over the last weeks, which has not helped. Putting correct costs and values on all available homegrown ingredients is always a good starting point.

I know that I regularly write about silage quality; however, it is such an important element on farms each winter that it is critical to know its quality so that the diets required for each group of animals can be delivered to them.

Setting targets for each group

    You need to establish the current liveweight of the cattle. Try to weigh animals at the same time of day for subsequent weighings to eliminate gut-fill discrepancies so that you gain accurate performance figures.

    Remember that cattle must be properly grown before you put them on any finishing diet. Stock that are still growing when you introduce a finishing diet will be very likely to have an additional growth spurt and divert feed towards frame growth, delaying finishing.

    Consider what market you are targeting for your stock: Do you have an agreement with a processor, or will you be shopping around close to when cattle are fit? You must have a slaughter date in mind for your cattle and feed according to that target.

    Another important consideration is what carcass weight and confirmation your cattle are capable of and how long this will take to achieve. 

    Fast-finishing periods with high-energy diets are more efficient but breed and sex will determine their potential weight gain and carcass characteristics.

      You must have realistic performance goals for your cattle. For example, bullocks can't thrive like bulls. As a rule of thumb:

          • Bulls - 120 days
          • Bullocks - 90 days
          • Heifers - 70 days

    What housing type will they be in?

      The more comfortable the surface they are on, the more content they will be. This, in turn, will improve health and performance. The quicker they eat their feed and the more they lie down chewing the cud, the better they thrive.

Silage in finishing diets?

The beef trade continues to be challenging this year as costs are high, and stores or weanlings have been a good trade. Therefore, you really need to test your silage to make sure that you are balancing it correctly and are not spending money unnecessarily or underfeeding concentrates with poorer quality forage. Your silage quality must determine your feeding and management strategy for all stock this winter.

    Unfortunately, some have discovered that the silage that they have will not achieve the finishing performance that they require. This is particularly the case for a large proportion of second cuts as they are over dry, high in stem and seed fraction and low in protein.

      It will provide a fibre source, but with only moderate energy, and will just about contribute to daily maintenance requirements.

      Early first cuts are reasonable quality, but many have preserved poorly and do not have good intake characteristics.

    The cattle’s ability to consume silage in large volumes will be the first factor to consider. A high DMD silage will be much more palatable to all types of stock, and as a result, significantly higher volumes of dry matter will be consumed faster. High Ph silages are unstable and must be fed fresh daily to achieve intake.

What other feeds are available to you?

    Beet yields around the country look to be excellent this year. If you are buying or have grown your own beet, then work out your tonnage available and spread it out over the entire feeding season. Running out of beet in finishing diets can cause considerable upset to stock, and intakes often collapse, resulting in delayed slaughter.

    Maize silage quality is again excellent this year, and with high starch and energy being tested, it makes an excellent base forage for finishing diets. For both beet and maize, you will need a specific mineral higher in phosphorus to balance it and to optimise performance.

    Moist feeds such as brewer's and distiller's grains, where available, are excellent products to promote intake, and they also provide a source of protein for finishing stock.

Providing fibre to maintain rumen health

As with all ruminant diets, fibre is an essential element. Cattle on high concentrate, high starch or high sugar diets need sufficient fibre to help buffer the rumen naturally so that acidosis can be prevented. 

For anyone feeding alternative feeds such as brewing and distilling products, confectionary waste or bread/biscuits, it is crucial that clean, dry and palatable straw is provided at all times, be that in a total mixed ration or where specific amounts are being fed out throughout the day.

Minerals requirements for finishing

Some are still under the mistaken impression that finishing cattle don’t require minerals. Mineral elements such as Calcium, Phosphorous and Sodium are essential for basic functions such as saliva production for rumen buffering. Minerals and Vitamins help manufacture vital enzymes that aid thorough feed digestion and influence animal performance and feed efficiency.

Copper is a natural growth promoter, while vitamin E and Selenium drive the immune system, and zinc maintains good hoof health. Finishing cattle are high-performance animals, and good mineral supplementation will reduce stress and aid in the avoidance of illness.

Ration feeding considerations

When buying a ration for finishing stock, it is important that it has high energy. Ask your supplier to give you a list of ingredients and get the UFL or ME value of the mix before ordering. 

The higher the energy, the quicker the finish.

Balancing the forages and feeds correctly will make it easier to achieve the animal's genetic potential. Avoid under or overfeeding protein. More muscled-type cattle require higher protein diets, while dairy cross cattle with lower muscling potential require less protein.

Consider more meal per day for a shorter period, rather than lower levels for longer. You will save silage and have animals slaughtered faster.

  • Brian Reidy is an independent ruminant nutritionist at Premier Farm Nutrition.

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Karen Walsh

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