Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Using meal to add the finishing touch

Targeted feeding with meal can help maximise prices for animals earmarked for slaughter before the winter

Finishing bullocks
Finishing bullocks

Gordon Peppard

Many dairy calf to beef systems require animals being fit for slaughter off of grass before the winter period.

Finishing steers and heifers off of grass from August to November generally requires some level of meal feeding at grass for a period before slaughter.

The response to meal feeding at grass varies depending on factors such as the amount and quality of grass available, the breed and sex of the animal, and the finishing level of the animals been fed.

Well managed early season grass is capable of giving daily live weight gains in excess of one kilo per day.

In that scenario the economic return to meal feeding at grass would be very low or not viable. As cattle reach the final finishing stage and as the grass quality declines then the response to feeding two to four kgs of meal can be estimated at 1kg carcase to 12-14kg meal.

Trials at Teagasc Grange have shown that when cattle had adequate grass, a good response of 1kg carcase/11kgs meal was achieved by feeding 2.5kgs.

However, the response declined rapidly to 1kg carcase / 20kgs meal when the meal level was increased to 5kgs/day with adequate grass available.

In many situations it may be necessary to feed up to 6kg/day to heavy cattle if top quality grass is not available. At levels above 6kg/day it would be better to house cattle and put them on a high energy finishing diet.

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The economic response depends on the beef price and the cost of the meal, below is a table outlining the margin over meal at different beef prices and meal costs.

The aim should be to achieve 1kg of live weight gain per head per day on animals that you intend to slaughter before the winter period. From now on, good autumn grass will only supply in the order of 0.75kgs gain per head per day and more often than not only 0.5kgs or less.

If you plan to get cattle away to slaughter earlier while prices are higher or if it improves carcass grade or kill out slightly it will probably be economical to feed some meal.

Where there is a supply of good quality autumn grass, it is recommended to feed 0.5kgs per 100kgs live weight. For example, a 600kg steer should be receiving 3kgs of meal per day.

Where grass is scarce or of moderate to poorer quality, then 1kg per 100kgs live weight should be fed. For example, a 600kg steer should be receiving 6kgs of meal per day.

If feeding more than 3kgs it would be advisable to feed this twice per day using a blend of cereal and digestible fibre sources.

It's also worth noting that autumn grass is high in protein and does not require protein supplementation. A short term feeding period of six to nine weeks shouldn`t require minerals.

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

Indo Farming