Learning how animals react to feed will help improve finishing
The winter feeding season is in full swing throughout the country. Many farms are now looking at finishing animals as quickly as possible so as to reduce overall costs.
The market requirements for cattle to be slaughtered at younger ages and at lower carcase weights, and the switch from steer beef to bull beef, is seeing greater levels of concentrates being fed to finishing animals.
Farmers are, therefore, looking for higher daily liveweight gains in their cattle. The single biggest factor influencing daily liveweight gain of an individual animal is energy intake.
As the beef animal can physically only take in a defined quantity of feed on a daily basis (ie, around 2pc of its body weight on a dry matter basis), the only way to improve energy intake is to increase the energy density of the diet.
This means using a higher proportion of high energy products. However, the practical consequences of using high levels of high-energy raw materials on some farms can be catastrophic in terms of the animal's health and ultimate performance. Imagine driving a racing car; the faster we drive it the more likely we are to crash. The same is true when looking for high levels of performance in fattening cattle; the harder we push them, the more likely they are to crash.
As a beef nutritionist who visits cattle fattening farms and feedlots, the most common problems I come across are acidosis, laminitis, and lameness caused by pathogens.
All the above can be related to poor ration design or poor ration management. In order to get a better understanding of how we can prevent these problems, we need to get a grip on what happens when we feed animals.