Finishers still have time to recover lost ground on bulls
We are at the critical stage of finishing for under-16-month, spring 2017-born bulls as they enter their last 120/140 days before slaughter.
If weight gains have been sub-par up to this stage due to poor quality forage, disease or virus outbreaks, there is still time to recover some of the ground lost.
Those who are most efficient at finishing bulls at under 16 months are getting their Continental bulls to 680-700kg, which translates to roughly a 400kg carcass.
Those finishing dairy-bred animals are achieving between 560-580kg, equating to a 270-280kg carcass.
In order for the Continental-type cattle to reach this target weight with four months left, I would set a target of live weight gain of 1.8-2kg per day, provided they are currently at 450-460kg.
With the dairy-cross animals, a realistic target would be 1.4kg per day, assuming they are currently between 390-400kg.
Two critical issues that I hear time and again that dissuade farmers from trying to finish for the under-16-month-old bull market is a fear of the animals not having a heavy enough carcass and secondly, of failing to have a sufficient fat score.
The obvious incentive for having the animal heavier is that there are more kilos to sell and with regard to fat cover, provided the animals exceed a fat score of 2+, they can also get on the QPS Grid for bonus payments.
I have long advocated the intensive feeding of bulls for this market.
I am aware of a reluctance amongst some farmers to pursue this production system which is stemming from the perception of higher input costs when compared to finishing steers at grass or using a high forage finishing system, for example.
However, the superior feed efficiency (ie kilogramme of feed dry matter necessary to achieve 1kg live weight gain) of these bulls can go a long way to offset the alternative systems.
Management and the choice of feeds in the remaining 120 days has a huge effect on performance, feed efficiency and carcass fat score.
For optimum feed efficiency of any animal, it goes without saying that the rumen has to be functioning correctly. With young bulls which are fed high levels of concentrate, the challenge is to avoid rumen acidosis.
While feeding a suitable concentrate ad lib and at the same time leaving straw available for the animals may be convenient from the farmer’s perspective, it does increase the risk of acidosis as there is no control in the concentrate intake by the animals.
Straw is arguably the best effective fibre, however as we are all well aware, it is very scarce on a lot of farms this year.
If straw scarcity is a reality, I would recommend as next best alternative the option of some grass silage or maize silage to be retained in the finisher ration. The use of a good quality yeast and a suitable buffer will also offset the risk of acidosis.
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