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Should I feed meals to my cattle this autumn?


With our temperate climate and the ease at which we can grow grass in Ireland it is no wonder that eighty percent of Irish Agricultural area is devoted to grassland. Seán Doorley, Teagasc Advisor, discusses the factors to be considered when deciding whether or not to feed meal at grass this autumn.

We all know that once cattle are housed, because of varying levels in silage quality, meal supplementation is necessary to achieve good live weight gain in cattle. However is there a financial return to feeding meal at grass in the autumn, even when we have an abundance of it? The answer will depend on the amount of grass available, its quality and the type of animal grazing it.

Grass Availability and Quality

Usually at this time of the year grass demand is getting higher as animals grow and grass growth is reducing as we approach the winter. Grass quality is reducing as its energy content is 80-85% of the value of spring grass, however protein levels are higher in autumn grass versus the spring. With this in mind where meals are given, you should feed a meal type that supplies enough energy. In nearly all cases feeding some meal to beef cattle will give a financial return, but the amount you feed will depend on the availability of grass ahead of your stock, so it can vary from farm to farm.

Weanlings

Suckler farmers will see a definite return when feeding meals to their calves prior to and after weaning. Not only farmers who have opted for this task in the BEEP-s programme, but all suckler farmer will see the benefits of weight gain in their stock. Feeding meals prior to and after weaning will see reduced stress that will help to prevent the possible onset of pneumonia. Farmers who sell weanlings will benefit by increase weight gain before sale and improved appearance increases saleability. Generally farmers will see a response rate of 6 to 1, so for every 6kg of meal fed you feed you will get an extra 1kg in live weight. A meal that is 15-16% protein is necessary for this young growing animal.

Yearlings/Stores

As autumn grass is not as well balanced as spring grass when it comes to energy and protein levels, yearlings/store cattle will benefit from supplementary feeding. A simple guide is to feed 0.5 kg meal per 100 kg live weight (3kg / day to a 600 kg steer) with good autumn grass or up to 1.0 kg meals per 100 kg live weight (6kg / day to a 600 kg steer) where grass is scarce or of moderate to low quality.

Finishing Cattle

Finishing cattle at this time of the year usually requires concentrates to be fed at pasture or the alternative is to finish animals indoors. Autumn grass is still a cheaper feed than silage or concentrates, so finishing animals on pasture is usually much less expensive than if they have to be housed. Even if you cannot finish animals at pasture, short-term supplementation is often worthwhile as it reduces the requirement for more costly silage later. Also, the ‘build up’ period to a concentrate finishing diet can be implemented at pasture prior to indoor finishing. Meal feeding levels would be similar as outlined for yearlings/stores. Teagasc research indicates that it is preferable to finish bulls indoors on a concentrate-based diet after a sufficient growing period at grass. It’s easier to manage bulls indoors than trying to feed meals at grass as bulls can do a lot of damage to pasture in the autumn.

It’s necessary to prioritise grass for growing and finishing stock at this time of the year and fully utilise it. However meal feeding is necessary to ensure animal performance does not take a dip prior to sale, finishing or housing.  Meal feeding has a role in ensuring your weanlings or stores are looking their best at sale and that your finished cattle are achieving target carcass weight, conformation and fat score at slaughter.

If you liked this article you might also like Suckler Herd Management in September and BEEP-S and Dairy Beef Calf Programme - What farmers need to do Now!

Teagasc Advisors are regular contibutors of articles here on Teagasc Daily. If you require any help or advice in the area of weaning calves, contact your local Teagasc Advisory Office here: Advisory Regions