Delivering Performance with Housed Beef Cattle

Delivering Performance with Housed Beef Cattle

The month of October was a real reprieve for beef farmers, especially in the Glanbia area. As a result, housing is later than normal and possibly 4 weeks later than 2017. However, the rules are still the same and performance pays for all. The key drivers of margin have always been the winter price gap, animal performance (especially the impact of forage quality), correct dietary balancing, animal health and housing conditions. In this brief article the focus is on the components within the producers’ control:

  • On farm efficiency
  • Animal Performance

The main factors driving on farm efficiency are:

  • Healthy cattle at housing and a safe transition to the winter diet
  • A suitable environment, housing, stocking density/air space, feed space, comfort, water
  • Silage quality
  • Dietary balance (a good spread of energy and protein sources)
  • Use good feed/additives give good return on investment.
  • Minerals are important especially for young stock.

NB: The key metric is the cost per kilogram of live weight gain. Cost per day or cost per tonne of feed is irrelevant if the cost per kilogram of live weight gain is the best it can be. The primary factors limiting performance in our experience are:

  • Silage quality (every 1% decline in silage DMD requires an additional 0.4 kgs of concentrate to compensate and raise the cost per kilogram of carcase gain by €0.08/kg).
  • If finishing an R grade steer (550-700 kgs) the cost difference between a 64% DMD silage and a 74% DMD silage when combined with 7 Kgs of concentrate is an additional €58/head.
  • Using high levels of starch (wheat/barley) and sugar (fodder beet/sugar beet) without balancing them correctly for fibre, protein and minerals. Frequently, cattle on those kinds of diets experience acidosis to varying degrees and it impairs performance for long periods.
  • Very high UFV diets require the addition of long fibre to support rumen pH.
  • Invariably we find many housed cattle do not have adequate access to clean water in the volumes required. Cattle require circa 6 litres of water per kilogram of dry matter intake.
  • Animal health and metabolic issues can be limiting and require vigilance. Follow the normal guidelines for both internal and external parasites. If in doubt do faecal, swab or other appropriate tests, especially where the history is unknown. Familiarise yourself with the difference between mange and lice.
  • Management of feed at the bunk or barrier can have a big impact on intake. Freshness is advised. Very dry diets reduce intake and it is advised to reduce the dry matter of the diet to 50% or less by adding water.

Animal Performance:

The technical performance of livestock is influenced by genetics (growth rates, feed conversion efficiency), age and gender. The table below depicts the targets for different types of finishing stock.

Category DLWG Targets
Bulls (Continental ¾ + Bred) 1.9 kgs
Steers – (Continental) 1.7 kgs
Heifers – (Continental) 1.4-1.5 kgs
Steers – (FR, AAX, HEX) 1.3 kgs
Heifers – (AAX & HEX) 1.1 kgs
Poor Quality Dairy X (NZ Fr & JEX) 0.9 kgs

Performance will vary with the quality of stock, feed and husbandry within the categories

  • As a rule of thumb it costs circa €0.50 more to add a kilogram of carcase to an O grading animal than it does to a U grading animal.
  • The optimum concentrate feeding level (grass silage diets) for finishing steers is about 7.5 Kgs and 10.5 Kgs/hd/day with finishing bulls. Above those levels the efficiency of use declines substantially.
  • Over the past 9 years data collected from marts and slaughtering plants demonstrates that Friesian (Fr x Fr) calves made on average €83 more than Jersey (Jex x Jex) calves but at slaughter they average €270 more per head. Looking at that another way – If a Friesian calf is worth €100 then the relative value of a JEX calf to a beef farmer is -€170 (NB : Minus)

GAIN ANIMAL NUTRITION have dedicated “Technical Support” staff available to our beef feed customers. Their services include, fodder budgeting, dietary planning/balancing, performance costing/monitoring and general husbandry advice. These can be contacted through your local branch or business manager.