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Key management tips | Silage quality | Carcass merit

Key management tips

  • Apply lime to paddocks with low soil pH; leaving this until the autumn may mean land becomes too wet and the job is left undone.
  • Mid-season weighing should be wrapped up by late July.
  • Plan to finish taking out surplus paddocks by mid-August; paddocks taken out after this may be slow to recover for autumn grass build up.
  • Plan autumn grass build up. Rotation length should start to increase towards 30 days as August progresses.
  • Apply a round of nitrogen after each grazing in late July to assist in grass build up for the autumn.
  • Introduce meal to cattle intended for slaughter off grass - daily gain on cattle will decline as August progresses due to lower grass dry matter - 4-5 kg of higher energy concentrate such as rolled barley should be introduced for cattle to be slaughtered in September to increase fat cover.

Silage quality

Calf to beef systems require high-quality silage of >72 DMD (dry matter digestibility), which is a key factor in achieving the desired levels of animal performance and reducing feed costs over the winter months.

When silage quality falls to a sub-optimal level, increased levels of concentrate supplementation are required in order to achieve the targeted average daily gains for weanlings, stores and finishing cattle. The expense of this increased meal feeding is a significant cost to the system and it has the potential to erode a significant proportion of the margin achievable per animal.

The key to consistently making high-quality silage is putting a plan in place. All participants of the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme have been putting plans in place for their farm to produce the highest-quality silage possible in sufficient volumes to meet their winter feeding and finishing requirements.

The table below compares the average forage analysis results for DMD for the different silage cuts taken in 2019 and 2020.

YearFirst cutSecond cutThird cutEarly surplusLate surplus
2019  70DMD 64.3DMD 70.7DMD  74DMD  64.5DMD 
2020  74.4DMD 71.9DMD 75.2DMD 72.6DMD

Focusing in on the first and second cut results, the vast majority of the silage in the programme, we can see that an increase of 4.4 DMD has been achieved on average for the first cuts and an increase of 7.6 DMD for the second cuts.

The improvements in silage quality had the potential to reduce the meal feeding levels required over the course of the winter to both the young and finishing stock in order to achieve the same targeted daily live weight gain as last year.

The table below quantifies this potential meal feeding reduction on per head per day, total quantity and total cost basis. The total saving is based on feeding 100 weanlings and finishing stock over a 120-day winter, with finishing and weanling rations budgeted at €240/t and €270/t, respectively.

CategoryYearAverage kg/head/dayMeal savedCost saving
Young stock  2019  1.28     
  2020  0.77  6.12t €1,652 
Finishing stock  2019  5.58     
  2020  4.53  12.6t  €3,024

Taking a herd size over the course of the winter of 100 weanlings and 100 finishing animals, which is relatively representative of the programme farms, the increased silage quality achieved in the programme last year has given the opportunity to make a saving to our winter meal bill of €4,676.

Each of the participating farms will stay focussed on ensuring their winter feed requirements are met in terms of silage quantity. All silages will be again tested for quality again this year well in advance of housing. This will allow for accurate decision making in terms of the feeding plan and meal budgets for the winter ahead.

Carcass merit

The details on the carcass merit of 2020 and 2021 spring-born animals on the Teagasc Green Acres farms can be seen in the below table. Expressed in carcass kilograms, the information gives an indication of how animals will perform at slaughter based on their parental average and compared to the base animal.

The most common calf type in both 2020 and 2021 was the Holstein Friesian (HOFR). 695 spring-born HOFR calves reared on the programme farms had carcass merit figures in 2021 and 628 calves in 2020. The average carcass merit of these animals is negative in both years at -3.8kg in 2020 and -4.1kg in 2021.

Minor improvements have been seen in the carcass merit of the Angus and Hereford calves, albeit starting from a low base in 2020. Higher carcass merit can be found in a range of continental breeds present on participating farms. The highest carcass merit breed in both years was the Charolais, although calf numbers making up this average were small.

Calf type2020 carcass merit - kg2021 carcass merit - kg
Holstein Friesian -3.8  -4.1 
Angus  -0.7  -0.4 
Hereford  -1.6  +0.03 
Belgian Blue  +7.8  +8.6 
Limousin  +5.1  +7 
Aubrac  +7.6  +7.3 
Charolais  +14.9  +16.5