As beef producers, we are in the business of converting feed into kilograms of carcass as efficiently as possible, and with current forecasts around concentrate prices for this winter, the efficiency of producing this kilo of carcass must be assessed. Feed costs account for 75% of variable costs in Irish beef production. Grazed grass is still the cheapest feedstuff available to us, and this year above any other, the opportunity to finish a percentage of cattle at grass must be strongly considered.
It has long been stated that regardless of the finishing period occurring at grass or indoors, the economic sustainability of any beef production system depends on optimising the contribution of grazed grass in the lifetime intake of an animal. However, typically when cattle are housed for finishing, the cost per kg of live weight gain increases by up to 50% compared to grass-based finishing. To put this into perspective, in 2022 Teagasc estimates the cost of a kilo of dry matter (DM) of grazed grass will equate to 12.5c, relative to one kg of silage at 21.6c/kg DM and concentrate costs expected to land close to 45c/kg.
Therefore, the question must be asked, is there a proportion of animals on farm that can achieve adequate fat cover and live weight gain to be slaughtered directly from grass this summer? In many cases later maturing animals will require an indoor finishing period, but can this feeding period be shortened by feeding at grass?
Supplementation rates at grass will depend on grass availability, grass quality and animal type. A high energy, low protein supplement will suffice, as adequate protein will come from grass. Grouping cattle on their ability to finish off grass is worthwhile (age, breed and gender-related). A ‘build up’ period to a concentrate finishing diet can be implemented later in the season at grass for the groups returning to the shed prior to slaughter.
Excellent grassland management will underpin the success of finishing cattle efficiently from grass. Energy is the main driver of live weight gain, which will be achieved by utilising top quality grazed grass (rotational grazing, targeting pre-grazing covers of 1,200-1,600 kg DM/ha).
For more information on finishing cattle at grass, contact your local Agritech Sales Advisor.