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Summer weight gains critical with input price uncertainty

Summer weight gains critical with input price uncertainty

The efficient utilisation of grazed grass forms the backbone of profitable calf to beef systems. Depending on the steer or heifer system being employed, it can account for between 52% and 73% of the animal’s overall diet. Sean Cummins, Teagasc GreenAcres Advisor discusses summer weight gain

With some uncertainty surrounding concentrate input prices for the winter ahead, the focus at farm level must remain firmly on maximising the performance achieved from grazed grass over the summer months – especially for second season animals.

Remember, the closer animals are to the finishing point by the end of this year’s grazing season, the shorter the finishing period and the lower the volumes of silage and concentrates needed to bring animals to the point of sale.

Every additional kilogram of liveweight gained at grass generally corresponds to one less day of indoor feeding for dairy-beef animals, where a winter finishing system is being implemented at farm level.

Focus on rotational grazing

To ensure that the desired levels of animal performance are achieved, a focus must really be placed on the grazing practices at farm level and the establishment of a rotational grazing programme – targeting grazing in three days and growing in three weeks – must be prioritised. To achieve this, a number of paddocks or grazing divisions need to be installed on farm.

Creating these additional grazing divisions does not have to be expensive and often times the use of poly wire and pigtail posts can provide an effective short-term solution, provided a suitable water source can be provided to each grazing section.

In addition, the correct grazing covers should be entered. Although grazing heavier covers can be accepted in the early parts of the year, it should be avoided as the year progresses.

There’s a balance that needs to be struck when it comes to the ideal pre-grazing covers and research points to 1,400kg DM/ha.

At this point, the grass plant is at its three-leaf stage.  If pre-grazing covers drop below 1,200kg DM/ha, it may have a negative impact on overall growth rates.

Targeting covers above 1,400kg DM/ha – particularly over 1,700kg DM/ha – will make it difficult to achieve adequate graze outs and result in poorer-quality grass in subsequent rotations unless mechanical intervention is employed.

As the year progresses and both the day light hours and temperatures move upward, a focus must also be placed on the water system that’s available.

The old adage often holds true that cattle will break for water before they move for grass, so having a water system in place that meets the animal’s consumption levels is important. This system should allow for 10-15L/100kg of bodyweight per day, while the trough size should be based on providing 5-7L/LU/day.

Achieving the desired levels of weight gain

The below table provides a snapshot of the targeted levels of weight gain required for Holstein Friesian steers under 21 and 24-month production systems. Where liveweight gain is optimised at farm level, the younger finish option may be availed of. However, with both systems, the performance achieved over the second grazing season is crucial.

For instance, over the second grazing season, if the performance of steers destined for a 24-month finish dropped by 0.1kg below the target, this would leave animals 28kg lighter going into the shed next backend after a 280 grazing season.

As the target for these animals is to achieve a daily weight gain of 1kg/head over the finishing period, this is adding an additional 28 days to the indoor feeding period. Where excellent quality silage is provided over the winter months, this equates to an additional meal input of 112kg/head.

For a system carrying 50 steers to finish, this represents an additional meal purchase of 5.6t. This is before factoring in the additional silage that’s required, which for the same farm will result in an additional silage requirement of 11.9t (DM) – the equivalent of 50 extra bales.

With every indication pointing to higher meal and silage costs for the winter ahead, the focus must not waver from maximising performance from grazed grass. It is important every year, but 2022 is not the year to let animal performance slip and face longer feeding periods indoors.

Table 1.  Target weight gain for Holstein Friesian steers under 21 and 24-month production systems

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