Farm Ireland

Monday 23 October 2017

Choose the best concentrate to balance out grass deficiencies

Gerry Giggins

AS EVERYONE is aware, grass is by far the cheapest nutrient available for beef animals. As we are now moving into the autumn period, grass is becoming variable in its availability and energy content. For these reasons, it makes good economic sense to supplement with the appropriate concentrate. The use of concentrates will help to balance any deficiencies in grazed grass, thus allowing beef animals to perform to their full potential.

The listed benefits from supplemented feeding include:

  • Greater use of available grass;
  • More control over the finishing date;
  • Allows animals to be kept out and correctly finished, eliminating the need for expensive housing;
  • Significantly improved killout percentage;
  • Improved carcass quality;
  • Proven increased economic return on feeding concentrate (€2 for every €1 spent).

As grass in the autumn is significantly lacking in structural fibre, choosing ingredients that have good levels of digestible fibre, good energy levels and don't impair good rumen function should be top of the list. The most common feeds that fit the bill are the pulps, ie beet pulp and citrus pulp, and the energy/starch sources are best got from cereals, ie barley, wheat and maize.

The addition of molasses up to its maximum of around 10pc aids palatability and gets the animals on the feed quickly.

The use and choice of protein is hotly debated when the subject of concentrate supplementation at grass is discussed. Soya bean meal is always the first choice and, even at a price of €350/t, represents the best value for money when protein is required. The general specification required on a protein percentage is a maximum of 12.5pc. So buying expensive 14-16pc 'beef blends' is wasteful to say the least. The level of starch and sugars (ie the prime energy sources) needs to be kept at more than 30pc.

An example of a simple mix is maize meal (16pc), soya (5pc), molasses (6pc), citrus pulp (2.2pc) and barley (51pc).

At its simplest, this can be a 'home mix' or bought in. A coarse mix is the most preferable form to present to the animals.

If your facilities allow, the addition of up to 12pc straw in a mix will have a hugely positive effect. The straw encourages greater cudding, slows down the passage of grass through the digestive system, thus giving much greater effective digesting of the nutrients available and therefore increasing liveweight gains. In extreme situations, where grass is limited in supply, the feeding of chopped potatoes, maize silage and even ensiled brewers' grains are options.

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Feed rates

  • Steers: As I stated earlier, the reasons for supplementing are based on the amount and quality of grass available and, more importantly, on the breed and type of animal being grazed.

The general rule of thumb on a continental steer is that for every 50kg above 500kg, 1kg of suitable mix is required to sustain maximum growths in early autumn. This changes in late autumn to 1.5kg -- eg a 700kg animal in early autumn should be receiving a minimum of 4kg/day and in late autumn it increases to a minimum of 6kg/day.

British breeds and Holstein-type animals should be receiving 1.25kg for every 50kg above 450kg -- eg a 550kg animal should be receiving 2.5kg in early autumn. In late autumn this will increase to 1.75kg/50kg above the 450kg target and up to a maximum of 4kg/hd.

  • Heifers: As there is a greater risk of heifers becoming over fat, the rates fed will generally need to be lower than steers. The maximum feed rate on continental heifers should be 5kg and with the AA- and Hereford-type animals, the rate should not exceed 3kg.
  • Bulls: It should never be attempted to finish bulls off grass as they become aggressive and dangerous as we stretch into autumn. Also, as they reach maturity, the level of finish achieved on bulls off grass does not meet any of the market specifications required for fat cover, meat colour, etc. So, the only option for bulls is housing in early autumn and intensively feeding to finish. This will be dealt with in depth at a later date.

Irish Independent