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Maintaining cattle performance from mid-season to housing


A minimum of three weight recordings should be carried out on beef farms and preferably more. Alan Dillon Teagasc Beef Specialist, has advice here around rectifying sward quality to ensure good animal performance off grass and he has 3 sound tips for best practice cattle weighing

2021 has proven to be a tricky year to maintain grass supply and quality. From a period of very poor growth in April and May where early silage yields were below par to a sudden burst of growth as we headed into June. Average farm cover increased almost overnight while quality declined in some cases. Grasses headed out too quickly for some farmers to take action leading to some swards being grazed with a significant stem content. These swards will deliver a significantly lower weight gain which may result in meal having to be introduced in forward stores for killing off grass or a longer housing period for lighter stores planned for a winter/spring kill.

Remedial action is needed on farm to encourage regrowth of a sward to increase animal performance.

Rectifying sward quality and maintaining performance

  • Aim for a high-leaf content and good utilisation of grazing swards.
  • Introduce stock to covers of 8-10cm (1,300-1,600kg DM/ha) if possible
  • Remove stock from paddocks at a grass height of 4.0- 4.5cm.
  • Under grazing will hit grass quality in subsequent rotations.
  • Follow the ‘graze in three days, grow in three weeks’ principle (18-21 day rotation.)
  • If forced to graze swards with a high stem content- top after grazing with a disc mower to give a clean cut
  • Take excessively heavy paddocks as surplus bales if grass supplies allow.
  • Ensure not to take out too many paddocks at once if grass is gone far ahead- budget for the number of days grass required ahead until these paddocks are back in the rotation
  • Use after grass – following second-cut silage – as a ‘clean break’ for stock.
  • Don’t waste grass – if forced to graze heavy covers, use a strip wire.
  • Follow on with 20-30 units of N (depending on stocking rate)
  • Weigh stock over the mid-season period to assess performance and make decisions on meal introduction, slaughter age etc
  • Feed meal to cattle targeted for slaughter in autumn- grass dry matter drops as autumn progresses and performance will reduce as a result. Meal introduction will pay in this scenario.

Monitoring performance

A minimum of three weight recordings should be carried out on beef farms (turnout, mid-season and housing). Additional monitoring throughout the year is also preferred.

Benefits of weighing

  • Provides an accurate indicator of animal performance and highlights potential failings in grassland management and dosing protocols.
  • Allows informed decisions to be made around the introduction of concentrates and when to target animals for finishing.
  • Aids in identifying the performance of stock from various sources – which animals performed best on my farm and are they from a particular herd?
  • Arrival and weanling weights are an excellent indicator of the efficacy of the calf rearing protocol on farm.

Best practice at weighing

  • Aim to weigh a full cohort of stock on the 1 day, i.e. all 1-2 year olds or all 0-1 year olds. This allows you to compare weights across the entire group and assess herd performance. It also allows you to identify individual animals who may be underperforming and take remedial action
  • Weigh groups at similar times of day- Gutfill can account of around 10% of an adult bovines liveweight when full compared to when empty. If weighing groups of stock ensure they are weighed at similar times of day or after a similar feed intake prior to weighing.
  • Ensure scales is calibrated and working correctly. Some farmers put a 25 kg bag of meal on the scales prior to weighing to ensure the weight cells are working well.

You might also like to read How to make the most out of weighing

Read more about Weighing as part of the Beep S and Dairy Beef Calf Programmes 2021 here

The Teagasc Beef Specialists issue an article on a topic of interest to suckler & cattle farmers every Wednesday here on Teagasc Daily