Grass is generally three to six times cheaper than forking out for concentrate rations.
Having said that, feeding a low rate of meal at grass for a period before selling weanlings will generally deliver an economic return.
The best chance of recovering the cost of meal is where it is fed immediately prior to sale. It is also worth remembering that buyers do not want over-fat weanlings and these types will normally sell at a lower price per kilo.
The general meal-feeding guidelines from Teagasc for well-muscled bull weanlings for export is 2.0-3.5kg/day, and 1.5-2.5kg/day for other continental bull weanlings.
Heifer weanlings suitable for export respond well at up to 2.5kg/day, while other continental heifer weanlings are fine at 1.5kg/day and 1-2kg/day for non-continental types.
Trough feeding allows the exact quantity of meal to be fed daily. It involves a more hands-on daily approach but more farmers are moving to trough feeding their weanlings as opposed to the creep feeder system where it can be filled up for a few days.
It is the norm for a few of the heavier stronger weanlings to get lazy and just lie around controlling the creep feeder. This results in not only the rest getting very little access to the meal but also the 'mafia' not grazing much and getting very little gain from the grass.
It is recommended to start feeding animals at 0.5kg/day two months prior to expected sale date and increase it over the following two to three weeks to the rates mentioned earlier.
With good quality grass available, bull calves eating 2kg/day have the potential to gain 1.3-1.4kg/day liveweight, while heifers eating 1.5kg of meal could achieve a weight gain of 1.2-1.35kg/day.
The average bull weanling price is around €2.50/kg for the 300-400kg types and an average price of a tonne of ration is roughly €260.
Feeding the bull 2-3kg costs 52-78c/day. If he gains even the lower of the range of 1.3kg/day as a result of the meal being fed with good quality grass, he is worth up to €3.25 extra with every passing day.
Given that no other bovine animal has a better feed conversion rate than a well-conformed bull weanling, farmers get good responses from increasing the rates where they fall into this category.
The prices for the top 25-30pc of weanlings regardless of sex are between 30-35c/kg over the figures I have worked on, so the return would be much more significant.
Hence, it is worthwhile breeding well and feeding appropriately. Where weanlings are not being sold and instead being kept on over the winter, they are being fed 1-1.5kg/day.