The latest tips for beef farmers on Ad lib feeding cattle

Measure everything
Measure everything

Anthony O'Connor

For forward beef animals, a fast finish of 60 to 80 days can be the most efficient. Ad lib feeding of finishing cattle will lead to increased carcass gain, food conversion efficiency; improve carcase conformation while reducing the length of the finishing period.

Finishing cattle on ad lib meals will typically eat 1.8%-2% of their bodyweight daily on a dry matter basis.

Therefore a 600kg animal could eat 11kgs of dry matter per day. In an ad lib situation, 10kgs of this could be meals so a high level of management is required.

The main problems that arise are acidosis where the introduction to high concentrates is too fast or where cattle are allowed to get hungry and then eat too much too quickly.

Start with 2 or 3kgs and gradually build up over a three week period. Only top quality silage should be fed and straw is more suitable where large amounts of concentrates are consumed.

Choose a quality high energy concentrate; avoid changing the ingredients especially in the final 60 days before slaughter.

Energy and Protein Sources:

The selection of feed ingredients for ad lib feeding is critical. A mixture of cereals such as barley, wheat or maize and pulps like citrus pulp or soya hulls is better than one ingredient. The protein content of finishing rations is normally 12% but it can be higher for finishing young bulls.

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Keep fresh, clean feed in meal trough at all times. Always have clean water available and be aware that cattle on high meal diets need a lot of water so water trough size and water flow rate are crucial.

Shed Environment: 

The main factors that affect performance are lying area, feed space and ventilation. Finishing cattle of 600-700kgs need a minimum of 25sq. feet each and at least 2 feet each if all animals need to feed at the same time.

Where meals are available, ad lib trough space is not critical. High performing cattle produce excess heat which must be taken away in ventilation. Signs of poor ventilation are excessive condensation on the roof, mould and cobwebs on the timbers, wet and dirty hides on the cattle.

Poor ventilation can normally be rectified with some simple changes to inlet and outlet spaces in the shed. Clipping a 100mm (4") strip of hair along the backbone and all hair off the tail keeps the cattle dryer and cleaner.

Animal Health: 

The most common health problems are respiratory infections, parasites and lameness. IBR has been a serious problem in recent years especially after housing and vaccination combined with good ventilation is recommended. All cattle should receive a fluke and worm dose and lice treatment at least once during the winter.

Lameness can result from injuries caused by uneven or chipped slats; hurts caused by fighting and mounting, infections and prolonged feeding on high concentrate diets.  Pens that are partly straw bedded and electric fence overhangs can prevent many of these injuries. Avoid mixing animals after they have become settled.

Market Outlet:

Finishers would need to have organised a market outlet for their stock.  Cattle should be fit and not fat going for slaughter. Continually monitor the fat cover on animals over the finishing period, slaughtering them as they reach the desired fat cover.

Farmers finishing cattle are advised to contact their factory agents early to check prices, demand, stock age limits and weight restrictions.

Anthony O'Connor, Teagasc Advisory

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