Over the next few months (mid-June to late October), a substantial number of beef cattle will be slaughtered off grass.
When cattle are housed for finishing, the cost/kg of live-weight gain typically increases by up to 50%, compared to finishing cattle directly off grass. Feed costs account for 75% of variable costs in Irish beef production systems. Grazed grass is estimated to cost circa €70/tonne of dry matter, with grass silage costing approximately double that and concentrate prices trending well over three times the cost of grass at present. Therefore, in the current climate, optimizing the contribution of grazed grass within the animal’s diet and using silage and concentrates as strategically as possible will aid in increasing margins within beef finishing systems.
Excellent grassland management will underpin the success of finishing cattle efficiently from grass. Energy is the main driver of live-weight gain in cattle and should be maximised throughout the finishing period. At grass, this is achieved by utilising top quality grazed grass (target covers of 1,200-1,600 kg DM/ha (8-12 cm)) throughout the grazing season. Aim to have cattle no longer than three days in the one paddock/area. Swards should also be grazed to 3.5-4 cm to maintain quality for the subsequent rotation.
Feeding concentrates at grass
Supplementation rates at grass will be dependent on grass availability, grass quality, animal type (helping to achieve adequate fat cover in continental breeds) or to speed up the finishing period where prices increase. Supplementation rates of 3-4 kg where grass quality is adequate or 5-6kg where grass quality is poor/supply is low, are typical from mid-summer onwards. A high-energy, low-protein supplement will suffice at this time of year, as adequate protein will come from grass. Grouping cattle on their ability to finish off grass is also worthwhile (age, breed, and gender). A ‘build-up’ period to a concentrate finishing diet can be implemented while at grass for those groups returning to the house prior to slaughter.
What does the research say?
Teagasc research highlights the performance benefits achieved when supplementing suckler-bred steers at grass.
For further information, contact your local Agritech Sales Advisor.