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Cattle Farm Management Notes: 29/09/2009

Rations for Finishing Cattle

By Liam Fitzgerald, Cattle Specialist, Athenry

At the Teagasc exhibit at the Ploughing Championships last week there was a constant stream of enquiries on rations for all classes of beef cattle. The most immediate requirement now is for finishing the remaining forward cattle off grass. Even the very best autumn grass is not capable of giving the required level of liveweight gain of 1kg / day on finishing cattle. Grange trials show that the best that can be expected from good quality grass at present is 0.8kg / day. In many cases either the quality, supply or both is limiting and in these circumstances the gain would be around 0.5kg / day. This might be alright for small-framed animals that are already finished but will not give the required carcase gain on large-framed continental cattle. Animals that are already finished should be drafted out for sale as they will not be very efficient converters of feed to carcase, unless of course you are confident of a price rise in the short-term. The Grange trials indicate that with good grass, you will get a response of about 1kg carcase per 10-12kg concentrates fed. At a meal price of €170 per tonne and a beef price of 300c / kg, the margin over meal is almost €1 for every 12kg meal fed which is a very favourable return. This applies when the rate of meal is about 3kg / day to a finishing steer. In a situation where grass is excellent (for this time of year) and you increase the meal to 6kg / day the response to the second 3kg can fall to about 1kg carcase per 20kg meal which will mean that the beef price would have to reach 340c / kg to break-even for the additional 3kg meal .

However, only a small proportion of grazing pastures are of excellent quality and in plentiful supply, having gone through the hardship of two months of bad weather. Therefore, in the more normal conditions that prevail, it will pay to feed a higher level of meal, which could be in the range of 6 -7 kg/day for a 600 -700 kg finishing steer.

Heifers & Cull Cows

As a general guide meal levels are related to the weight of animal and the Grange guideline is that you feed 0.5kg per 100kg liveweight when grass is very good and up to 1kg / 100kg liveweight where grass is limited in supply or quality. Heifers do not respond to high meal feeding as well as steers. The guideline would be to feed about 2.5kg / day with good grass and up to 5kg / day as grass declines. Cull cows have lower feed conversion efficiency than younger animals. Ideally, a cull cow should be in good body condition at present if she is to finish off grass, would get a plentiful supply of grass and 3-4kg meal / day. If feed is scarce consider selling a cull cow at the mart.


Rolled barley is being bought at €130-€140 per tonne and is an excellent energy feed for finishing cattle at grass. It also changes the economics of meal feeding in that even at a response of 1kg carcase per 20kg rolled barley there is a positive margin over feed – i.e., it costs €2.70 for the 20kg barley at €135 / tonne and you get €3.00 for the kg of carcase. Where you have doubts about the quality of the grass and can buy barley or similar feeds such as citrus pulp and soya hulls for €125 - €135 per tonne you can afford to be fairly generous with the concentrates this year. This does not mean that you feed meal where it is not needed but it is better to properly finish an animal than send a forward store to the factory, as often happens when feed and money is scarce. There is surplus protein in autumn grass so there is no need to balance these high energy feeds with additional protein. Over a short feeding period of 4-6 weeks you would not need minerals except where there is an inherent mineral deficiency or where you are feeding very high levels of concentrates.

The good weather has made outdoor feeding on grass much more acceptable as there is much less poaching. If the weather turns wet it would be useful to feed in a yard, hard core or a roadway to avoid poaching. This also makes outdoor meal feeding safer as people have been knocked down by cattle rushing to feed at a trough. Being able to put out the feed in a restricted area before the cattle have access to the trough is much safer.