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Winter finishing gets underway in Co. Westmeath

Irvine Allen farms just outside Moate, Co. Westmeath, and has been a participant in the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme since the spring of 2019. The Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef team; James Fitzgerald and Sean Cummins outline Irvine's winter finishing plans

As part of the plan drawn up for his farm, he rears 120 HOFR bull calves each spring and will carry these through to slaughter from 21-30 months of age. The main cohort of steers will be slaughtered as the approach 28-30 months.

Prior to enrolling in the Teagasc Green Acres Programme, Irvine was rearing a mixture of autumn and spring-born HOFR bull calves and early-maturing bulls and heifers, bringing them through to finish from 24 to 30 months of age. A legacy of that system means that the last of Irvine’s early-maturing heifers and bullocks are being finished at the moment.


Which animals to feed and which animals are stored?

A total of 30 early-maturing heifers are being fattened for slaughter currently; 12 of which were born in the autumn of 2018, the remaining 18 born in the spring of 2019. Under ideal circumstances these heifers would all have been killed off grass this autumn, leaving the shed space now being used to fatten them to winter more young stock.Irvine encountered problems in sourcing calves of the quality he required during the autumn of 2018 and spring of 2019, which partly caused these cattle to underperform and miss their target slaughter weight and date, delaying finishing until after housing.The target is now for these heifers to achieve an ADG (average daily gain) of 1kg/day and for all the heifers to be slaughtered before the year end. Achieving this will result in average carcass weights of 280kg for the autumn-born heifers and 245kg for the spring-born heifers.

There are also 17 autumn of 2018 born steers being finished on farm. Similar to the heifers, an autumn finish off grass would have been the best route to slaughter for these animals had they achieved the lifetime ADG of 0.8kg targeted for them. 14 of these cattle are HOFR steers with the remaining 3 being early maturing. A target ADG over the finishing period of 1.1kg has been set for these cattle, which should leave an average carcass weight of 320kg in early February.

The last of the older cattle on farm, 18 spring of 2019 born steers, will be stored over the winter months and returned to grass for slaughter close to 28-30 months of age.The decision to carry these animals back to grass was based on a number of factors.

Firstly, it provides Irvine with cashflow at a time of year when sales are limited. In addition, these animals were slightly behind the housing target weight of 510kg, being 480kg on average when weighed on November 4.By allowing these animals time and storing them over the winter period where a minimum weight gain of 0.5kg/day is required, it gives Irvine an animal heavy enough to finish of grass next spring. It also means that concentrate spend is targeted at animals that are capable of generating a heavy enough carcass to offset the cost of winter finishing. 


Winter diets


In terms of the diets being offered for finishing stock this winter, the heifers are receiving a diet compromising grass silage, straw, concentrate and fodder beet.

This diet is costing in the region of €1.74/head/day at an energy density of 0.96UFV/kg DM. A similar diet is also being offered to the steers, although the meal feeding levels are 0.5kg/head/day lower than their female counterparts on account of the fodder beet inclusion. All-in-all, the steers’ diet is costing €1.93/head/day. This diet has an energy density of 0.92 UFV/kg DM.


This year, Irvine reared 109 spring-born HOFR bull calves. They have performed very well to date, having achieved a lifetime ADG of 0.76kg from birth to housing weighing on the 4th November. This resulted in an average weight of 237kg. Currently, 81 of these animals are being out-wintered on forage crops – a rape/kale hybrid.Out-wintering young stock on forage crops

Sowing method, fertiliser, variety etc.

On the 1st August, 11ac of old pasture was sprayed off and left to decay for 2 weeks before tilling. A light coat of slurry was spread on this ground in the intermittent period to help meet the nutrient requirements of the soon to be sown forage crop. On the 13th August, the ground was tilled with 2 runs of a disk harrow and one pass of a power harrow.

The seed was then sown using a seed drill before 3 bags/ac of 10-10-20 were spread. A bag/ac of granulated lime was also spread to help the germination of the forage crop seeds among the dying trash. The ground was then rolled and left to germinate. A final bag/ac of 18-6-12 was then spread on the crop to maximise yield. Irvine is a firm believer in fertilising the crop well as “the tilling and sowing is the expensive part, the yield needs to be maximised in order to make it worthwhile”.

Feeding plan and management

The calves are split into 3 groups (21:30:30) with access to a sheltered 1.5 acre grass lie-back for each group of calves. When forage grazing commenced, calves were introduced gradually over the space of a week to prevent any digestive upsets that may possibly occur.

All calves were treated with an Ivermectin pour-on before entering the forage crop as well as a mineral dose high in iodine and an IBR vaccination. They will receive the same mineral dose every 4-6 weeks to keep their thyroids working properly and allow them to thrive well on forage crop diets. A seaweed lick is also made available to each group.

As is recommended, the forage crop makes up just 50% of the animals’ diet; the rest is being made up by high quality (73 DMD) baled silage.

The average weight of the calves out-wintered is 248kg. Each animal has a dry matter appetite which is ~2% of its own bodyweight (5kg DM/day).

The baled silage being fed is 36% dry matter and, by taking an average bale weight of 600kg, we can estimate that there is 216kg of dry matter feed in each bale. Between the 81 calves, one bale of silage is being consumed per day which is 2.7kg DM for each calf (c.50% of its total diet). For the meantime, once Irvine sees that 1 bale is being eaten per day, he knows that the forage crop is not making up more than 50% of the calves’ diet. This calculation will have to be redone every so often as the liveweight of the cattle increases.

Targeted dates and weights

From the housing weighing, the average weight of the calves being out-wintered is 248kg. An average daily gain (ADG) of 0.6kg is targeted for these animals over the course of a 120-day winter period. Therefore our turnout weight target is 320kg. The lightest 28 calves had an average weight of 205kg and are housed for the winter in order to get preferential treatment.

Currently they are receiving 2kg of 14% crude protein concentrate along with high quality (76 DMD) baled silage. The meal feeding levels to these calves are being front loaded to the early stages of the winter and will be reduced to average 1kg/day over the course of the winter period.

To find out more about the Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme click  here https://www.teagasc.ie/animals/beef/demonstration-farms/green-acres-calf-to-beef/