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Independent.ie

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Top animal nutritionist's key tips on the right energy sources for finishing cattle

Maize silage has a lot of benefits for a livestock enterprise

Gerry Giggins

Activity in the marts is ramping up as autumn marks the start of the winter feeding period. Weanling and store cattle trading will peak over the coming weeks.

The hope for beef finishers is that these animals can be bought at a reasonable price and at the other end be met by a good demand at finishing. It's the eternal gamble!

For the majority of beef producers, with the exception of forward store animals, there will be two key phases in the production of an animal to the required market specification.

The final finishing stage is proceeded by the early adaption and growing period.

At all stages of the production curve it is vital that the correct energy and protein balances are being achieved.

In order to hit these targets, a plan should be drawn up based on the type of animals that will be fed and the range of feeds that are on farm or available to purchase and the desired finishing date.

No matter the breed of animal or stage of growth, the correct balance of energy and protein sources available to the rumen will ensure optimum feed utilisation and animal performance.

Beef finishers will always primarily focus on their energy feed sources. Energy is supplied to the animal from four main sources; starch, sugar, fibre and fat/ oil.

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Using a combination of quality carbohydrate sources can help to maximise rumen performance. In my last article I outlined the options for storing and treating cereal grains.

This year is no different in the fact that Irish grain represents the best value energy feed source available to livestock farmers, especially around harvest time.

Barley, wheat, triticale and oats can be used at varying levels in both growing and finishing rations. Maize grain remains the most popular imported energy feed option on Irish beef farms.

Given the high quality yet relatively safe form of starch supplied by maize grain, it makes for an excellent companion to native grains in beef finishing rations.

Providing a finishing animal with maximum starch and sugars levels without compromising rumen function will go a long way to providing maximum growth levels and the desired carcass finish (fat scores).

A high quality beef finishing ration should contain a minimum 45pc combined starch and sugar content of the ration dry matter.

Maize silage and fodder beet

Maize silage and fodder beet both remain popular choices on Irish beef farms. While both crops are still awaiting harvest, reports from around the country suggest promising yields and excellent quality for both crops.

Maize silage provides an excellent forage source while not reducing the overall energy density of a ration, which is sometimes the case with average or poor quality grass silage.

Feeding fodder beet introduces high sugar rates into all beef rations while also improving the palatability and increasing feed intakes.

The inclusion of beet in steer and heifer rations will also aid carcass quality, including conformation and fat scores. Care should be taken when feeding fodder beet or maize silage that the overall diet is correctly balanced for protein and mineral/vitamin requirements.

Given the high levels of starch and sugar required in intensive beef finishing scenarios, providing adequate fibre levels is paramount.

The fibre levels in a ration can be visually judged by the amount of cud chewing by animals, especially during rest periods and from dung texture and consistency.

Structural fibre is best provided by straw in either ad-lib or TMR scenarios. I am constantly asked as to how I rate the different straw types available.

Wheat straw is always my preferred choice in intensive rations.

However oat and barley straw will have to be considered given the predicted straw scarcity due to the difficult harvest and baling conditions that we have encountered.

Crude protein levels will vary widely depending on the stage of growth, breed, sex and performance targets.

We are currently in the pleasant scenario of relatively low worldwide protein feed prices.

Soya bean, which generally sets the benchmark for all other protein feeds, is currently trading around €330/tonne, in comparison with over €500 just two years ago.

As a result of this price and the forward contract prices on offer, using soya as the primary protein source in all rations is top of my recommendations this winter.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth


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