Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

Indoor feeding is paying dividends but no cake-walk

Gerry Giggins

There has been an exceptional start to the grazing season and where grassland management is well controlled beef animals are thriving exceedingly well. Whereas this is by far the cheapest gain that will be achieved at any stage there is still a sizeable number that are still housed for finishing and need special attention.

Those who find themselves deliberately or otherwise with a shed full of finished stock are in the enviable position of having many suitors for their stock.

Cattle can be still housed for one of the following reasons:

  • Animals were housed last autumn and haven't met performance targets due to illness, poor quality forages used or persistent acidosis/lameness.
  • They were very backward when housed and needed until now to finish.
  • Young bulls purchased and housed last autumn are now only reaching maturity and a proper degree of finish.
  • Forward bulls or heifers bought early in the spring that are being fed for specific markets such as the Keenan Kepak Beef club.

In my experience, summer-housed animals need very special attention in order to perform to their maximum and to justify the added cost of feed and housing costs. If steers or heifers that were housed in the autumn are still on feed you need to have a very close look at your current feeding and housing cost and evaluate how economical it is to continue to feed. It is likely to be costing you in excess of €3.25/hd/day between feed and overheads. At an average beef price of €3.80/kg these animals would need to be gaining 1.1kg of carcass daily. Depending on the animal's carcass grade, this could necessitate a daily live weight gain in excess of 1.5kg/head/day just to break even. Peak performance and peak carcass gain was probably obtained in the first 100-120 days after housing. As these animals come to finish, the proportion of fat to lean meat being laid down is much greater. It is clearly much more expensive to lay down fat than to increase lean meat yield, therefore killing at the correct stage to avoid over-fat animals is vitally important. Persisting with feeding these animals is unjustifiable unless there was yet another significant price rise.


Young bulls that were housed last autumn are now at their peak of performance and if the feeding program is correct then you are almost likely to see them almost gaining daily.

Young continental cross bulls that are now reaching maturity should be receiving the maximum feed energy input. Depending on their genetics, this will allow them to gain anything up to 2kg/day live-weight and a very high percentage of this gain is in the form of actual carcass gain.

Therefore it is well justified continuing to feed young bulls of any breed as the value of their daily carcass gain will outweigh the cost of feed and other direct overheads.

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Boosting the energy and decreasing the protein level of the overall diet as bulls come closer to finish will have a very positive effect on the carcass finish. The animals will have a better cover of fat, which suits a processing industry that is seeking a fat grade of 2-3.

Overall protein content of the diet for continental bulls at this stage should be 14pc. Using forage such as maize silage requires good planning as the pit face needs to be narrow and well managed so as to avoid secondary fermentation and wastage.

In conclusion, summer indoors feeding is a very specialist process which has distinct challenges from a management and economic view so it requires very close examination before pursuing this option.

Gerry Giggins is a nutritionist with Keenans. Email:

Indo Farming