Farm Ireland

Monday 18 December 2017

Dairy calf to beef: Aim for a minimum weight gain of 0.6kg per day

Gordon Peppard visits a Friesian steer system and shares his top tips on how to minimise weanlings' time on the farm, while maximising your profits

Pat Bowden one of the participating farmers in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme
Pat Bowden one of the participating farmers in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme

Gordon Peppard

In order to achieve good performance and growth rates on your weanlings over the winter period, it is essential they are achieving a minimum of 0.6kgs of live weight gain per day.

In the spring, when animals are returned to grass, farmers are often disappointed with how their animals have performed over the winter period, with average daily gains as low as zero to 0.3kgs per day.

Where animals are growing at 0.25kgs per day or less, they can become stunted and this will have serious consequences on the lifetime gain and finishing performance.

So how do we achieve this level of performance?

If animals are to be returned to grass in the spring, the optimum level of daily gain over the winter period is around 0.6kgs per day. At this level, there is plenty of scope for cheap compensatory gain at grass.

In order to obtain a gain of 0.6kgs per day over the winter, concentrates would generally need to be fed with the rate per head per day depending on the quality of the silage.

This is where having your silage tested becomes essential. Without a silage analysis, you are completely in the dark as to what level of concentrates you should be feeding and what level of performance is possible.

Pat Bowden, one of the participating farmers in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme, recently tested his silage bales so he can now make a plan as to how much concentrates to feed over the winter period.

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Pat runs a Friesian steer system, selling steers off grass in the third grazing season at 26-30 months. He realises the importance to keeping the weight gain moving over the winter period.

Over an average 140-day winter period, he says he would like his weanlings to be a minimum of 80-90kg heavier at turnout the following spring.

If these levels of weight gains are not met, animals end up on the farm longer in the third grazing season - this pushes the sale date back from June to September/October, where you generally take a big hit on prices and it has also cost you a lot more to get these animals finished.

Two different groups of bales were tested on Pat's farm.


Here are a few of the key points Pat works to when planning his winter feeding programme:

  • concentrates are fed at grass pre-housing so that animals are at, or above, target weight at housing and are used to the ration;
  • Pat front-loads the concentrates at the start of housing and it can be reduced or eliminated two to four weeks prior to turnout;
  • each year, weanlings are penned-up according to their weight - this ensures less chance of bullying and lighter weanlings can then be given some extra concentrates if required;
  • getting the cattle back out to grass in the spring is as critical as the concentrate feeding, therefore grassland planning now is essential to have grass available in the spring if the weather allows early grazing. Pat has been closing up paddocks from the beginning of October.

In Pat's case here, when he is feeding bales from group 2 with a 68pc Dry Matter Digestibility (DMD) and a protein of 11.2pc, he will feed 2kg of an 18pc crude protein ration.

When he moves to the higher DMD bales of group 1, the concentrate level could be reduced to 1kg-1.5kg, but he will monitor performance to ensure no drop off in weight gain.


Other factors Pat pays particular attention to ensure that performance is not affected are:

  • weanlings should not be overcrowded in the pen and should have adequate feed space at the trough;
  • drinking troughs should be kept clean and checked daily;
  • animals are treated at housing for worms, fluke and lice;
  • housing can be a stressful event for a weanling, so you need to ensure to do everything you can to minimise this stress so that their immune system is not compromised;
  • weanlings are monitored for coughing in the month before housing and if lungworm is suspected, they are dosed to have them as clean as possible before housing. Depending on the product used and its timing, a repeat dose may be required as they all have different residual effects.

Depending on location, the winter period on farms in Ireland can represent between 25pc and 40pc of the yearly production cycle on your farm.Achieving good average daily gains during this period is essential in order to keep your farm's output high and reduce the days to slaughter.

Poor performance means extending the animals' lifetime on the farm, increasing feed required, reducing stocking rate and ultimately reducing performance and profitability.

The best way to monitor performance on farm is by regular weighing of your animals. Scales can be purchased and retained on farm for years of use or, alternatively, ICBF has a number of weight recorders around the country that will weigh your cattle and leave you with a weight report on each individual animal.

Animals should be weighed one to two weeks after housing, two to three months later and again at turnout if going back to grass.

This will give a good indication as to how your animals are performing. Regular weighing during the summer months is also very important.

All of the above questions need to be answered and corrected, as a problem with any of them will reduce intakes, thereby affecting performance and putting you behind in your target to meet 0.6kgs of average daily gain over the winter period.

Gordon Peppard is programme advisor for the Teagasc Calf to Beef Programme

Pat Bowden, one of the participating farmers in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef programme

As cattle cannot pick up worms and liver fluke while they are indoors, an effective treatment programme shortly after housing keeps them free of these parasites until they return to pasture or are slaughtered.

The choice of product to use and the correct timing of the treatment then become the critical questions to answer. Be sure to consult your vet if you are in any doubt.

Indo Farming