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Gerry Giggins: Beef farmers need to reassess the economics of persisting with young bull finishing system


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I recently hosted a small group of beef farmers from the USA visiting some Irish beef farms. One of their main observations was the huge discrepancy between store prices in the marts and finished beef prices, which they said was similar trend in their market at home.

It seems the relationship between these two prices never following much logic - as we are witnessing this spring - isn't just an Irish phenomenon!

High store prices in the US appear to be driven by stable grain prices and the prospects of an increased demand on the back of a new trade deal with China.

One farm we visited is operating an efficient purchased-weanling-to-finished-bull-beef system.

It is worth reviewing as to why many serious beef finishers continue to persist with this type of finishing system in the light of recent negative sentiment from the meat industry towards bull beef.

In terms of animal performance, feed conversion efficiency, kill out percentage, improved grading and increased carcass weights, young bulls lead the way.

The vast majority of bulls targeted to finish under 16 months of age are now approaching their final 100-120 day finishing period.

At this point, there are a number of important nutritional and management changes that must be implemented to ensure that these animals reach their target specification.

At this point, most one-year-old, suckler-bred bulls should be approximately 475-500kg liveweight.

Once in this weight bracket, bulls should be moved onto their final finishing ration.

Energy content

Energy levels should be increased to their maximum and this is best achieved by increasing the starch and sugar content of the ration.

By increasing the energy content of the ration, both the forage component and protein content of the ration will automatically decrease. This change will place pressure upon the rumen and care should be taken to avoid any digestive upsets.

The inclusion of an appropriate yeast and buffer at this stage will significantly reduce the risk of acidosis.

To complement this energy increase, it is important to feed a digestible fibre source. In recent weeks, many imported digestible fibre sources have increased in price.

Where available, rolled oats will provide an excellent digestible fibre source, whilst helping to improve fat scores, especially with more muscular type bulls.

In cases where overall protein levels remain too high during the finishing period, young bulls will continue to grow rather than flesh, resulting in delayed finish and price penalties on excess weight and under fat carcasses.

Where feeding ad-lib and using small quantities of straw or silage as the forage source, the crude protein content of the concentrate shouldn't exceed 13.5pc in most cases.

Where low protein forages are being fed, such as maize silage, wholecrop silage and fodder beet, the protein content of the concentrate ration will need to be higher.

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These animals have now been housed for over 100 days in most cases and if possible they should be weighed at this point to avoid any guesswork.

As there is only one opportunity to mix these animals, where space permits, they should be grouped according to weights and age at which they meet their 16 month birthday.


If animals are on slats, feet can become an issue as the season progresses.

Footbathing at this time will help to avoid and control any bacterial related feet problems. With ambient temperatures rising, the risk of reoccurrence of lice is greater. Retreatment at the first sign of scratching or excessive licking is strongly recommended.

It goes without saying that demand for bull beef has been variable in recent years for various reasons.

Therefore it would be important to hold a conversation with beef processors before committing to finish young bulls this season.

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