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Growth Watch: Finishing at pasture commences

James Fitzgerald & Séan Cummins, Teagasc GreenAcres Advisors, discuss how farmers in the programe are lessening the costs associated with winter finishing by moving to finishing stock off grass prior to housing. They also get updates from farmers Aidan Maguire, Co. Meath, & Shane Cranny Co. Carlow.

The Advice

To lessen the costs associated with winter finishing, many farmers in the Teagasc Green Acres Programme have made the move to finishing stock off grass prior to housing.

The system, when the desired levels of animal performance are achieved prior to the introduction of concentrates, can reduce the winter feed costs due to the lower requirements for silage.

As the autumn progresses, the ‘power’ in grass tends to decline; this is due to energy becoming its limiting factor.

With lower levels of energy available in autumn grass, concentrate supplementation will be required to achieve the desired level of carcass fatness. There is a carcass growth response to concentrate supplementation at pasture in autumn for finishing steers.

In terms of the quantities of concentrates, 0.5kg of concentrate per 100kg liveweight (3kg/head/day for a 600kg steer) is required on good-quality autumn grass. Where grass quality is low or it is in scare supply, 1kg of meal per 100kg of liveweight is required (5-6kg/head).

When selecting a concentrate, a high-energy, low-protein meal will suffice, as the protein content of the grass will be sufficient for finishing.

Although ideally suited for dairy-beef heifers sired by an early-maturing bull, this system also works well with autumn-born steers destined for slaughter at 24 months or spring-born Friesian or early-maturing steers within 60 days of their desired slaughter weight.

As with all beef finishing systems, careful and regular drafting is required. Animals should be handled frequently to avoid over-fatness – especially in the case of early-maturing animals. Not only will this practice make the group smaller as the autumn edges closer to winter and ground conditions may become tricky, the timely drafting of stock can also reduce the overall concentrates required by the group in that finished animals aren’t still on farm.

Aidan Maguire, Navan, Co. Meath

  • Growth: 70kg DM/ha/day
  • Demand: 52kg DM/ha/day
  • Stocking rate: 3.40LU/ha
  • Average farm cover: 655kg DM/ha

After a tight spell where cattle had to be supplemented with silage, growth has finally rebounded here in Co. Meath.

A growth rate of 70kg/ha/day was recorded this week, while demand is currently running at 52kg/ha/day. The differential between growth and demand – if it continues – will allow me to reach my maximum farm cover by mid-September.

The supplementation of meal to forward stock, which has just commenced, will also help reduce demand somewhat. There are three groups of stock targeted for finishing prior to housing.

The first is a bunch of autumn-born steers, which will be approximately 24 months at slaughter. Concentrates have also been introduced to 30 early-maturing heifers and the plan is to kill these in October at a 240-255kg carcass.

The spring of 2020 born steers also weighed very well when weighed mid-season and there’s approximately 30 of these animals that will be fed and slaughtered before housing. However, these animals will be weighed again shortly to identify animals suitable for feeding, with those heavy enough and starting to lay down flesh introduced to concentrates.

33 units/ac of 27% nitrogen and 3.7% sulphur where applied over recent days. Initially I had planned on applying protected urea, but it is difficult to source it locally currently.

Shane Cranny, Myshall, Co. Carlow

  • Growth: 43kg DM/ha/day
  • Demand: 21kg DM/ha/day
  • Stocking rate: 1.83LU/ha
  • Average Farm Cover: 494kg DM/ha

Growth is still a little sluggish here in Myshall, with growth rates averaging 44kg DM/ha/day recorded over the last three weeks.

The average farm cover on the farm here has dipped slightly below 500kg DM/ha, but concentrates have been introduced to autumn-born steers for finishing and this has helped to reduce demand by 7kg DM/ha/day.

The first of these animals will be slaughtered in approximately 30 days, so the demand for grass on the farm will continue to drop between now and housing, which will help extend the grazing season length into November.

In terms of fertiliser, 20 units of nitrogen have been applied to all paddocks over the past week and this will help to pull up the average farm cover closer to the 1,000kg DM/ha mark in mid-September.

A post-emergence spray wall also applied to a July reseed last week and, in order to promote tiller, this will be grazed approximately 14 days after application.

The Teagasc GreenAcres Programme Advisors have regular contributions here on Teagasc Daily. You might also like to keep up to date by signing up to their e-newsletter. Find out more about the Teagasc GreenAcres Calf to Beef Programme here.