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Key management tips Meal supplementation and silage quality | Winter housing

Key management tips

  • Close grassland areas in accordance with the autumn rotation planner.
  • Continue to supplement spring-born calves with concentrates up until housing.
  • Complete a silage test to evaluate silage quality on farm.
  • Administer a pre-housing dose to weanlings prior to housing to allow lungs a sufficient time to recover.
  • Monitor performance of finishing stock being supplemented at grass and draft where possible.
  • Complete a pre-housing weighing on all stock to evaluate performance levels over the grazing season.
  • Ensure sheds are set up and ready for housing animals.

Meal supplementation and silage quality

The vast majority of winter finishing regimes centre on two key feedstuffs – grass silage and concentrates. To ensure animal performance is maximised over the winter finishing period, the levels of concentrate feeding offered must be balanced with the quality of silage available on farm; concentrate feeding provides energy and protein to an animal’s diet that may be lacking in silage.

Over the coming weeks, silage testing will be completed on all the farms participating in the Teagasc Green Acres Programme to provide information on silage nutritive value and preservation. From this, informed supplementary decisions can be made.

Correct silage sampling procedure:

  • Poorly taken silage samples often lead to inaccurate results.
  • A period of 5-6 weeks should elapse between ensiling and sampling.
  • A long core sampler 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.
  • For more detailed information on silage analysis and balancing silage quality and concentrate feeding, contact your local Teagasc advisor.

Dry matter digestibility (DMD) is the marker of quality in grass silage; it’s the primary driver of the level of concentrate feeding required in order to achieve the desired levels of animal performance at finishing. The table below provides guideline concentrate feeding levels based on silage quality. In terms of selecting a ration, an energy density of >0.95UFV and a protein content of 11-12% is desired when feeding finishing stock. Animals must also be provided with vitamins and minerals, either through the concentrate being offered or by means of additional supplementation, while consideration should also be given to ensure adequate dietary fibre is provided.

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

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

*Ad-lib feeding should be considered.

Winter housing

Providing finishing animals with an appropriate environment is another important factor to consider with winter finishing. In instances where the correct levels of nutrition are provided, below levels of animal performance could be achieved due to inadequate housing conditions. When assessing the housing facilities on farm, there are a number of important elements to consider:

  • Does the pen/shed provide each animal with adequate lying space?
  • Can all animals gain access to feed?
  • Do the animals have unrestricted access to clean water?
  • Is the floor surface suitable for finishing animals to avoid slips or injuries?
  • Can animals be evenly grouped in accordance to size to avoid smaller animals being out-competed for feed?

The below table outlines the key space allowances required when housing finishing animals. Providing animals with sufficient floor space is important, as research shows that 2m2 is insufficient for finishing animals.

Recommended housing space allowance - m2/head
Animal type  Slatted  Straw 
Finishing steer  2.2-2.7m2  4.0m2 
 Recommended feed space allowance - mm/head
Ad-lib silage  Restricted silage  Concentrates/roots 
600-650mm  600-650mm  400-500mm