Teagasc advises against feeding meal to stores
Published 21/10/2015 | 02:30
Feeding meal to beef cattle prior to a grass-based finishing diet doesn't deliver extra profit, according to the latest Teagasc research.
Trials outlined by Dr Edward O'Riordan to more than 400 farmers at the National Beef Conference in Athlone last week showed that animals only gained 6kg of carcase weight from half of a tonne of concentrate feeding.
The lead researcher at the Teagasc Grange centre advised the farmers keeping weanlings for themselves to keep daily supplement feeding under 2kg/head over the winter, but to strive to reduce it to zero if possible.
"If you're selling weanlings you may be justified in feeding more than the 2kg, but the buyer of the fancy weanling driven on by concentrates might be disappointed with the actual response," said Dr O'Riordan.
The Teagasc advice is based on the assumption that the farmer is feeding silage with a minimum drymatter digestibility of 72 throughout the winter, allowing the animal to continue gaining at least 0.5kg/day with little or no meals.
However, independent nutritionist, Gerry Giggins said that this was an unreasonable assumption for the majority of farmers.
"All the evidence points to silage quality getting worse nationally, and the last thing we want are cattle that gain no weight during a period of their lives," he said.
"All the international meat production standards insist on rearing systems that avoid this because it has a very negative effect on quality, with less marbling and more striations in the meat."
Traditional beef systems relied on the 'hairy store' that thrived on good summer grazing after living off its own resources over the winter.
However, Dr O'Riordan's research found that the weight gain achieved on concentrates over a winter period is rarely retained over the following season on pasture.
He told farmers that the economic target return for concentrate should be a 10:1 conversion in carcase weight, rather than response ratios of up to 50:1 that result from some common practices at farm level.
The Grange study looked at the performance of 120 Charolais and Limousin spring-born suckled bulls throughout a winter on (a) ad lib grass silage with 2kg concentrate, (b) ad lib grass silage with 4kg concentrate, and (c) ad lib grass silage with 6kg concentrate.
The group on 4kg of meal gained 26kg, while the groups on both 2kg and 6kg were 65kg heavier.
However, after turn-out to pasture, the daily gain was greatest for the animals on the least meal, and by slaughter time, there was no significant different in carcase weight, kill-out or fat score.
A recent study looked at grazing 17 month old autumn-born bulls for 90 days with zero, 3kg and 6kg of concentrate feeding. The groups showed daily liveweight gains of 0.9kg, 1.02kg, and 1.09 kg and liveweights at slaughter of 635kg, 648kg, and 664kg respectively.
Crucially however, the bulls fed 3kg/day concentrate showed no carcase gain after being fed 270kg of meal, while those fed 540kg at the 6kg daily rate were heavier by just 20kg.
A separate group of 90 weanling bulls fed either 3kg or 6kg/hd/day indoors were returned to pasture for 100 days with zero, 2.7kg or 5.3kg/day of concentrates.
At slaughter the lower feed levels showed a carcase gain of 6kg and 20kg, resulting in completely uneconomic feed conversions of up to 35:1.