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DairyBeef 500 Update October 2022

Extended grazingFinishing Diets

Extended grazing

As the end of October approaches, the focus begins to switch from grazing outdoors to feeding indoors for dairy-beef animals. Along with final preparations to housing, the primary focus at farm level over the next number of weeks should be the implementation of an autumn rotation planner.

Holstein Friesian stores on autumn grass

The primary objective of the autumn rotation planner is to maintain grazed grass in the diet of livestock for as long as possible, thus lessening winter feed costs through reduced silage and concentrate usage over the winter months.

Not only does following such a budgeting tool reduce costs this year, it also sets up the farm to be more profitable next spring. It’s often forgotten that the grass grown over the winter months is the starting point for spring grazing next year. By putting a plan in place now to close up a portion of the farm on a weekly basis, a reserve of grass will be created to allow for the early turnout of stock next spring, which once again brings cost savings through improved animal performance, reduced feed costs and lower manure handling charges.

Autumn grazing guidelines:

  • Aim for a post-grazing height of 3.5-4.ocm.
  • Do not re-graze fields that have been closed.
  • Start housing cattle if ahead of your weekly grazed area target.
  • Heavier cattle should be housed first if ground conditions deteriorate.

When implementing an autumn rotation plan, the target is to have 60% of the grazing area closed by the end of the first week of November, with the first paddocks closed from October 10 onwards. These target dates are pulled back two weeks on heavier or farms with more challenging soil types.

Taking the example of a 100ha farm, this means that 60ha should be closed by November 7. To achieve this, the farmer will have to close 15ha/week to be on track to achieve this target. In circumstances where this area is being exceeded on a weekly basis, more forward or heavier animals should be moved indoors and started on their finishing diets to slow down the areas being grazed on either a weekly or daily basis.

Table 1: Example Autumn Rotation Planner (100ha farm)

DateHeavy FarmDry Farm
September 25 12ha  
October 2 24ha  
October 9 36ha 15ha
October 16 48ha 30ha
October 24 60ha (60% closed) 45ha
October 31 73ha 60ha (60% closed)
November 7 86ha 73ha
November 14 100ha 86ha
November 21   100ha

The remaining 40% of the grazing area should then be allocated to lighter animals more suited to achieving the desired graze outs on these swards.

Thought often needs to be given to the order in which paddocks are closed. By putting a structured plan in place, the success of spring grassland management and an early turnout can be maximised. Although still months away, the ideal starter paddocks next spring will have covers of 800-1,200kg DM/ha – paddocks with a medium covering of grass to allow animals to settle back into the routine of grazing. These will be paddocks closed in the second half of the 60% area closed.

Questions often arise on how much grass will be on the first paddocks closed next spring – those closed in the first half of the 60% of the autumn rotation plan. With a longer growing time, covers on this paddocks will often exceed 1,200kg DM/ha and so they are recommended for grazing between March 1 and March 17. By maintaining these paddocks, it will create a bank of grass at farm level, allowing sufficient time for the first grazed paddocks next spring to recover to begin the second rotation.

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Finishing diets

Finishing diets and what levels of meal supplementation are required to achieve the desired levels of weight gain for finishing animals are to the forefront of many of the participating DairyBeef 500 farmers’ minds. Grass silage is an important winter feed in calf-to-beef systems and balancing this forage with the correct quantity/quality of concentrate is key.

 silage pit

The starting point in formulating finishing diets is the availability of a silage analysis or silage test results. Visual assessment alone is not adequate to determine silage quality and laboratory testing is recommended, from which information on silage nutritive value and preservation can be obtained. Once a detailed silage analysis has been obtained, balancing the quantity and quality of concentrate required is the next step.

Correct silage sampling procedure:

  • A period of 5-6 weeks should elapse between ensiling and sampling.
  • A long core sample should be used.
  • 3-5 cores from well-spaced points on or between diagonals on the pit surface should be sampled.
  • Core to within 0.5m of the pit floor.
  • Discard the top 5 inches of each core before mixing into a composite sample.
  • Alternatively sample an open pit by taking nine grab samples in a ‘W’ pattern across the pit face.
  • Exclude air, seal well in a bag and avoid posting samples late in the week.
  • When testing bales, a number of samples from each batch of bales made must be taken in order to get a representative sample. Test each batch separately.
  • Use only Forage Analysis Assurance Group (FAA) accredited labs when having silage samples analysed.

Silage and concentrate diets form the backbone of finishing diets on many of the DairyBeef 500 farms, with concentrate supplementation being added to provide energy and protein that the silage may be lacking.  Energy is typically the most limiting factor in beef diets. In terms of finishing rations, a >0.92 UFV is necessary, while a crude protein content of 11-14% is targeted.

Table 2 provides guideline concentrate feeding rates for steers and heifers based on various silage qualities, measured in dry matter digestibility (DMD).

Table 1: Guideline daily feeding rates based on silage quality (DMD)

Animal TypeTarget ADG66DMD68DMD70DMD72DMD74DMD
Finishing steer 1kg/head/day 7.0kg 6.0kg 5.5kg 5.0kg 4.0kg
Finishing heifer 0.9kg/head/day 7.0kg* 6.0kg 5.5kg 5.0kg 4.0kg

*Ad-lib feeding should be considered

With ration prices exceeding the €400/t mark in many instances, checking the quality of the silage available is critical this winter. Calf-to-beef producers should aim for a silage quality of at least 72DMD, as the quality of feed is necessary to avoid excessively large feed bills for finishing animals.

Farm Update October 2022 - Peter O'Hanrahan

I operate a calf to beef system just outside Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, alongside my father Thomas, and we purchase between 180 and 200 mainly Holstein Friesian males calves annually.

The production system has changed slightly over the past number of years. Initially all calves were carried to beef as steers at 30 months of age. But as numbers started to increase to maximise output per hectare, we’ve altered to a younger age of slaughter with marketing now occurring between 21 and 24 months of age.

Back in mid-August, we identified 60 steers that would be suitable for finishing prior to Christmas, with the aim of producing carcass weights of at least 280kg at slaughter.

Holstein Friesian steer yearlings on autumn grass

These steers were supplemented at grass for the first six weeks, with concentrate introduced on August 20, and were housed in late September for their final finishing period. The volume of meal offered remained the same indoors as outdoors, at a feeding rate of 4kg/head/day. The plan is to start drafting these animals in the next week or two and to have the majority marketed by November 1.

Although I would have liked to have kept these steers at grass right up until slaughter, our farm was hit very hard by drought in July and August. The decision was then made to house these animals earlier to extend the grazing season for this year’s calves and the remainder of the 2021-born steers.

Thankfully, grass growth rates did recover since these steers were housed, with the average farm cover now being over 1,000kg DM/ha. Housing of the remainder of the 2021-born steers will largely depend on how quickly we move through areas as part of our autumn rotation planner.

The first paddocks to provide grass for next spring were closed last weekend and the aim is to have 60% of the farm closed by the end of October / first week of November. To hit this target, we will have to graze 13.5ha/week between now and then. If we start surpassing this on a weekly basis, we will have to reduce the numbers at grass by moving stock indoors to a silage and concentrate diet. The remaining 40% of the grazing area will then be used to carry the weanlings out until December.

DairyBeef 500 Farmer Peter O'Hanrahan and local Teagasc Advisor Enda McLoughlin

The farm here is very dry, so it will mean that the weanlings have a relatively short winter, with turnout generally occurring in the last week of January.

In terms of management up until housing, the weanlings are currently being offered1kg/head/day of concentrate while at grass. This is something I think is necessary from mid-September onwards, as grass quality begins to deteriorate in terms of nutritive value and dry matter levels.

Approximately four weeks prior to housing the weanlings will be dosed for both stomach and lungworm. This gives their lungs ample time to recover before going indoors, as any of the lungworm burden will have cleared and their lungs will be clean and healed before entering the shed for the winter months. I’m also following a vaccination programme, as historically we have had problems with pneumonia, and so booster shots for the protection of RSV, Pi3 and Mannheimia haemolytica (Pasteurealla) will be administered two weeks prior to housing.