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A step in the right direction for profitable beef production this winter


With the majority of feed costs on farm relating to the winter housing period, especially for finishing cattle, and the average beef finishing unit losing over £65 per head according to AHDB then the economic sustainability of beef production depends on optimising usage of homegrown feed and forage whilst maintaining target performance. Rumenco Technical Adviser, Laura Drury, discusses how to make the most of the feeds grown on farm this winter in order to maximise returns. 

It is estimated that silages costs around twelve pence per kilo of dry matter eaten, compared to a whopping twenty-three pence for concentrates - and that’s all before feed out costs! This means that silage and purchased feeds account for around twenty and seventy percent of total feed and forage costs of a beef enterprise respectively, meaning maximising returns relies heavily on increasing output from forage.

But how does this years’ silage measure up? Independent analysis of 2017 first cut grass silage shows it to be of good quality on average, with a higher nutrient value than 2016. Crude protein values are higher this year, averaging 15% versus 14.5%, and the same goes for energy (Mega Joules of Metabolizable Energy per kilogram of Dry Matter (MJ ME/kg DM)) content, averaging 11.1MJ ME/kg DM versus 10.8 in 2016. The increase in energy is reflected in the lower digestible fibre (NDF) levels, 45.1% versus 50%, although figures show that the digestibility of this fibre is expected to actually be slightly lower than those in previous years.

It is important to note that these are average nutrient values, and ensuring your own silage is analysed is a fundamental part of maximising it’s potential. The same independent analysis found crude protein values ranged from as low as 7% to highs of 25%, with energy ranging from 9.3 to 12.1MJ ME/kg DM; highlighting the huge variation in quality throughout the UK. Second and third cut silages are also likely to be poorer, given the inclement weather conditions experienced later in the season. In addition, the naturally low protein content (8 to 9%) of high energy and starch maize and wholecrop silages fed to finishing beef cattle, no doubt necessitates supplementation with rumen degradable protein.  

So what next? Rationing doesn’t need to be complicated with a focus on energy, protein and minerals, and an understanding of dry matter requirements a prerequisite. 

Individual feed dry matter values are the single most important figure required for ration formulation.  Therefore, it is important to get this checked regularly, ideally via laboratory analysis which feed suppliers will typically supply free of charge. 

As a guide, dry matter intakes for growing cattle are 2.3% of their bodyweight each day, whereas finishing cattle will only eat around 2% of their bodyweight as dry matter. For example, a 300kg growing steer will eat approximately 7kg of dry matter per day (for example 28kg of 25% dry matter silage), and a 600kg finishing steer will eat approximately 12kg of dry matter per day (for example 48kg of a 25% dry matter silage). 

Considering the stages of beef production and targeted performance goals, the growth phase focusses on controlled and continuous growth to produce an animal with good frame growth ready for finishing, with target growth rates between 0.5 and 0.8kg per day. In comparison, the finishing phase focusses on a short and sharp period of rapid weight gain, with target growth rates between 1.1 and 1.5kg per day in order to achieve a carcase fat class of 4L.

Based on the average figures quoted then this year’s grass silage should be capable of meeting the energy and protein requirements of a growing animal.  However, to achieve lean muscle growth, especially in continental breeds, then steps should be taken to ensure protein in grass silages are fully utilised for growth. 

Grass silages are typically adequate in rumen degradable protein supply, but will require fermentable energy from starch (cereals) or sugar (molasses) in order for the rumen bugs to utilise this protein. Without this type of energy, a large part of the protein in silage will be wasted, meaning animal growth rates may be compromised. 

MAXX Cattle Booster acts as a source of fermentable energy from sugar, with 36% sugar making it an ideal supplement for feeding alongside grass silage throughout winter housing. 

JEB-1692-article1.jpgFor finishing cattle, especially where animals are not native breeds, further supplementation of grass silage will be required for maximum weight gain and desired fat covers. The 14% crude protein level in MAXX Cattle Boosterwhich includes soyabean meal, aids lean muscle growth in both native and continental breeds complementing the protein in grass silage, whilst the high energy level helps support the high weight gains required in the finishing period. Where low protein cereal silages are fed as the basal forage to finishing cattle, protein supplementation may be all that is necessary for target animal performance. In this case, the brand new PROMAXX lick would act as an ideal supplement, containing up to 25% more protein than standard protein licks including feed grade urea.

In addition to the extra protein and energy supply from these supplements, the products contain a complete range of minerals and vitamins, which are just as important as energy and protein for good growth and health. 

Moreover, the association of housed cattle and high lick bucket intakes appears to be a common problem experienced by many. The unique manufacturing process resulting in low moisture products, makes MAXX Cattle Booster and PROMAXX ideal supplements at housing due to the highly controlled intakes. 

With a huge range of forage quality being seen again this year, having your own forage analysed will help guide the optimum supplementation to achieve the best utilisation possible. The drive towards making the most out of low cost home-grown forages, makes matching the correct supplement to the basal forage key this season, being a small but significant step in the right direction towards profitable beef production this winter.

For further information about these products or to find out where your nearest stockist is please email info@rumenco.co.uk or telephone 0800 833 675