Finishing Cattle Off Grass This Summer

At this time of year, finishing cattle off grass quickly has many advantages, in terms of stocking rate, profitability and workload, writes ruminant nutritionist Brian Reidy.

After Thundershowers and lightning along with big volumes of rain, you would be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t the middle of May. Ground conditions are currently difficult around the country after all the rain. 

However, it looks like several weather models are in agreement that we can look forward to a warmer, more settled spell from next week. Grass quality continues to be variable due to stress caused by water logging and nutrient washout, and now we are approaching heading dates, and grass sward management is much more difficult as a result.

After all the moisture, an increase in temperatures will drive growth, and fingers crossed, a surplus will exist on many farms very quickly.

I would recommend that as this happens, you should walk your farm twice per week to assess grass supply and to help make grassland management decisions sooner rather than later.

Pedigree Limousin cattle on a farm – When finishing advanced stock, it is critical in order to keep costs down that lower covers are being grazed at all times, that being 1,200-1,400kg of Dry Matter-ha.

Grass Quality For Beef Production

As has been the pattern so far this spring/summer, we have all found it difficult to estimate the volume of grass in paddocks due mainly to such variation in Dry Matters.

Achieving good grass utilisation figures has been the biggest challenge of all in 2024 so far. I have recorded dry matters of anything between 12 to 20% on grazing swards when measuring with the mobile NIR4. 

With the recent rain and subsequent growth spurt, grass will return to its seasonal norms for Dry Matter in the mid-teens. Proteins have also been very variable, with a range seen between 18 and 28% recently.

When finishing advanced stock, it is critical in order to keep costs down that lower covers are being grazed at all times, that being 1,200-1,400kg of Dry Matter/ha.

Higher quality, more leafy swards are higher in digestibility, energy and sugars, meaning optimum intakes and performance can be achieved. 

In order for grass to supply top-quality feed, it must also be kept up to date with the required amount of fertiliser. 

“Apart from Dry Matter, when I do on-site grass sward analysis, I test for all nutrients and am discovering that many swards are starved of nitrogen, significantly lower in protein, energy, and sugars, and under nutritional stress”. 

Finishing Stock Off Grass This Summer

Many with advanced stock are considering the option of finishing them earlier than they would traditionally have done, off grass.

Factory prices are stronger than at any time in the last few years, so many are looking at early slaughter. Don’t try to push cattle though unless they have been fully grown first. 

Finishing Stock Off Grass Efficiently

The best quality grass will be capable of giving up to 1kg liveweight gain per day on finishing cattle depending on animal breed and sex, whereas the target gain for beef-type continental stock should be of at least 1kg for heifers and 1.2 to 1.3 plus for steers, per day. 

A cost-effective response from finishing cattle at grass by supplementing with 2.5-3kg meal per day is possible when targeting the right stock. This is provided that excellent quality grass is available at all times.

However, if top-quality grass is not available, it will be necessary to feed higher levels to heavy heifers or steers that are close to finish. 

The volume of meal needed will also depend on the breed and sex of the animals being fed. At this time of year, finishing cattle off grass quickly has many advantages in terms of stocking rate, profitability and workload.

What Meal, if Any? Quality vs Quantity

Any concentrates that may need to be fed on grass to heavy cattle will need to be high in energy and low in protein in order to get the final cover of fat on stock quickly. 

What you are aiming to do is complement the qualities of grass and balance its excesses and deficits as closely as possible. 

“Look for meals that include native barley and oats along with some maize meal, as this will achieve target fat cover quickly. Avoid feeding fillers in these mixes as they are of no advantage in a good finishing diet”.

Depending on the volume of meal being fed on grass, the inclusion of a digestible fibre such as hulls or beet pulp may be advantageous. 

Always include a good-quality beef mineral all the way to slaughter, as they provide essential elements such as calcium and phosphorous for saliva production and vitamins for enzyme production and an efficient immune response.

(Source – Irish Examiner – Farming – Brian Reidy – 20/05/2024)

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