Farm Ireland

Saturday 19 January 2019

How to get the most out of your cattle over the winter

VITAL: Getting your feeding strategies and generalhusbandry in order with strong silage and feed analysis willboost performance
VITAL: Getting your feeding strategies and generalhusbandry in order with strong silage and feed analysis willboost performance

Anthony O’Connor

During the winter housing period, maintaining thrive in weanlings and store cattle is vital.

These animals are the future of your beef business, so every effort is needed to ensure that weanlings and store cattle reach their target Average Daily Gain (ADG) during the winter housing period. 


The objective is to keep feed costs as low as possible and exploit compensatory growth at pasture during the following grazing season.

Compensatory growth occurs when animals have a plentiful supply of high quality feed, usually grass, available after a period of restricted intake/growth.

This allows animals that get a limited diet over the winter to gain weight rapidly in spring/early summer.

The earlier you can get cattle out in the spring, the greater the potential for compensatory growth.

A target weight of 0.6kg average daily gain during the first winter is optimal.

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There may be a case for higher weight gains and higher supplementation rates if animals are being sold out of the sheds at the end of the first winter instead of going back to grass.

Weanlings that have been over fed with concentrates and are “warm” will lose much of the winter weight gain in the first few weeks at pasture.

Stock gaining less than 0.25 kg/day will not be able to compensate sufficiently at pasture so extreme restriction is not recommended during housing.

Concentrate Supplementation

Meal supplementation rate will be dictated by silage quality and type animals being fed.

Less concentrates are required when high digestibility silage is available.

From experience, visual assessment, texture and smell, most farmers will know whether they have good or poor quality silage.

However, a more detailed laboratory chemical analysis costing only €36 would be very beneficial.

This would tell you how good your silage actually is and what level of meal feeding is required for your stock.      

For store cattle on moderate quality silage of 65 DMD percent, then feed 2kg of meal per head per day. 

Concentrates should be front-loaded when animals are housed and gradually reduced four to five weeks before turnout to grass.

As cattle go from a diet of grass to silage at housing, the extra concentrate is fed to make the changeover as easy as possible.

This will mean the cattle keep thriving and gaining weight in the shed.

For weanlings, feed a high energy 16pc crude protein ration with minerals and vitamins included. Don’t over feed concentrates to weanlings as they will get too fat and are not ideal for sale or grass.

Store Cattle

Store cattle are older animals that are being housed for a second winter, with the intention of going back to grass again the following spring.

These would usually be steers or heifers fattened off grass with the aim to be slaughtered before reaching 30 months of age.

The response to concentrate supplementation for stores is lower than for weanling and subsequent compensatory growth at pasture is generally greater and can exceed 1kg live-weight/day.

Target daily live weight gain during the housing period is 0.5 kg/day for heifers and 0.7 kg/day for steers.

The optimum level of concentrate supplementation for store cattle in winter depends on silage quality.

For store cattle feed a high energy 14pc CP ration with minerals and vitamins included. If using forages such as maize silage or fodder beet, a protein balancer and minerals will be required. 

Any ration being fed to weanlings and store cattle should be palatable, fresh smelling and free of dust.

Ensure clean, fresh drinking water is available at all times, this is especially important where concentrates are being fed. 

Check water bowls daily for dirt and ice. Adequate feeding space at feed barriers/shutters should be available for all stock being fed concentrates.

Again, fresh, dry silage needs to be in front of housed stock at any time. 


Lice infestation can reduce cattle performance by 30pc ensure all cattle are dosed and treated for lice and tick, also treat against all stages of liver fluke after 14 days of being housed.

Any worm treatment used should be effective against both larvae and adult worms.  All bought in weanlings and stores should be treated for all stages of fluke.

It may be necessary to treat all stock again in six to eight weeks time depending on veterinary product used.  


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It is vital for housed stock and if there have been problems in the past it may be necessary to remove side sheeting on the roof. Consider vaccination for stock against respiratory diseases.  

Anthony O’Connor is a Teagasc advisor based in the Galway/Clare Regional Unit

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