I have been surprised in recent weeks with the number of calls I have received with regard to housing of beef animals for finishing. Scarcity of grass in some situations, and the heavy rain in other areas of the past week, have accelerated this decision to house animals.
Bulls and heifers for specific markets are the main animals being housed at this time. The previous season has barely finished when another one starts.
The signals from the market place would indicate that due to the continued scarcity of finished animals available for slaughter and good demand for beef, we are likely to see prices holding their current level for the immediate future.
The challenge for beef farmers who are housing animals this year is, therefore, to retain the maximum margin from the carcass value sold. This will be obtained by:
•Reducing feed costs;
•Achieving the maximum gain;
•Feeding the appropriate ration;
•Bringing the animals to the correct finish.
Generally, bulls at this time of year can pose behavioural problems while grazing, therefore its necessary to have them housed. They are either one of two categories; (a) spring-born bulls of 16-20 months; or (b) autumn-born bulls from the previous year that are set for housing for finish on the farm or for imminent sale.
In both situations, these animals are at a stage where they should be meeting their maximum weight gain, optimum feed conversion efficiency and have a 'covering' with fat that ensures they meet market specification. Feeding grass only or supplementing with concentrates at grass will not meet any of these requirements. Housing stock in order to get a good finish is essential.
Maximising the energy intake of these animals is the primary objective during the final stage of finish. Slow introduction onto feed is advisable to avoid digestive upsets. Total mixed ration (TMR) feeding allows for much faster introduction onto the full ration. The choice of energy and protein sources will depend on the forage base used in the ration. If maize silage is available, it is not essential to include any pulp into the meal mix.
With the cereal harvest about to start, using native cereals as the base of the finishing ration makes great sense. Cereals processed and stored in whatever form can be included at up to 65pc of the total ration.
Priority has to be given to high starch feeds such as wheat, barley, oats and maize grain.
There is some risk of acidosis when using cereals but this can be countered by selecting a suitable digestible fibre and using long fibre (straw) to improve rumen function that naturally buffers the rumen.
There is no room for low-energy feeds in the finishing ration. Grain, in whatever form, will easily fit into the ration and at current projected prices for green grain (€150/t), it still represents huge value against imported energy sources such as citrus pulp or hulls at €240/t and €215/t respectively.
Home-mixing cereals, molasses, pulp and protein will create a high-quality ration and achieve maximum performance. A standard 14pc protein ration will cost €210-220/t, which, over 120 days of finishing, will deliver a cost saving of €60-70/hd as against purchasing a ready-made beef mix.
Continental-cross bulls that exceed 500kg liveweight should be brought to slaughter in a maximum of 120 days (gaining 1.7kg/day). Most Friesian/Holstein cross bulls will probably be 420-480kg liveweight and will require a minimum of 140 days (gaining 1.3-1.4kg/day) to be brought to the correct finish.
Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist and can be contacted on email@example.com