Perfecting heifer finishing for Italian market

Gerry Giggins

Brian McCabe's stock are generally carried to finish over 140 days for bulls and 90 days for heifers. This is then generally divided into two phases. Stage one is the settling in or growing stage and stage two is the finishing stage.

Brian's heifers will spend a certain amount of time availing of grazed grass in the spring. A recent group of 60 heifers recorded a daily live-weight gain of 1.65kg/day. The housing or intensive feeding stage is key to changing carcass characteristics that suit the Italian market Brian is targeting.

As most bulls are bought in autumn and don't spend time at grass then the growing ration is set with high levels of protein and moderate energy levels. Gains of 1.25 kg/day are achieved regularly with feed conversion efficiency (FCE) of 6.5kg of feed dry-matter fed per kilogram of animal live-weight gain. The bulls are grown for 40-50 days and are then moved onto the finishing stage. The energy levels are increased and protein decreased for the 100 days pre slaughter (see tables).

Bulls are weight recorded on a regular basis. A minimum weight gain of 1.75/kg/day is expected but 1.9kg/day is the norm. Acidosis is avoided in the final stage by presentation of the finishing ration and adding yeast in the final stage.

If care is not taken at the start of this intensive finishing phase, the dramatic increase of rapidly fermentable energy ingested by the animal will reduce the pH in the rumen.

This acid-load can switch off normal rumen function, resulting in sub-clinical acidosis and a lowering of daily weight gains.

Projected average daily feed cost this winter will exceed €3 per day. Being in tune with daily feed costs and feed efficiencies, Brian is not optimistic he will return a reasonable margin.

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