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Winter Management of dairy beef cattle groups

Vincent Ronayne, Drystock Advisor, discusses the winter management of the two primary types of stock on the dairy-beef finishing farm: the young stock from 2020 and the stock facing their finishing winter period. He outlines the separate and different treatments required for housing and feeding

The clock has now gone back and it’s time to plan for housing of the weanling dairy beef stock. The closing off of fields should be in full swing so that there will be early grass in 2021 for stock. Fields left with no cover or poached will delay the grass growth next spring. Grass is needed to grow grass, so those fields that are grazed now by cattle or will be grazed to the end of November by ewes will be slower to produce grass next spring.

If you are operating a beef system from the dairy calves then there will be primarily two types of stock on the farm. The young stock from 2020 and the stock facing their finishing winter on the farm. These groups need separate and differing treatments.

Lying areas:

The 2020 calves should be housed with comrades of similar size and weight to avoid bullying in the pen and at feeding. The number of stock in the pen should allow each animal to lie in comfort when all stock are lying down. The practice of wedging pens with stock should be avoided as research has shown reduced thrive if space is limited in pens. For these young stock a lying space of 2.4m3 is recommended. This means that in an average bay of a slatted shed with 3.6 metre slatted tank (12ft 6’ slats) and 0.5 metre toe space should not have any more than 12 young stock which would need to be reduced as the winter progresses. Having enough head space is not always an accurate indicator of sufficient lying space especially if feeding both sides.

The heavier cattle need more lying space with numbers limited to nine and ideally eight per the above pen for optimum animal comfort. Again, as cattle thrive over the winter months the number per pen may need to be reduced.

Meal Feeding:

The target growth rate for dairy stock over the first winter period is 0.6kgs per day. Greater growth rates can be achieved but many studies that have been carried out indicate the most economical way of producing a beef animal is to meet this growth rate over the first winter. There is no need to go re-inventing the wheel on the cost/benefit of meal feeding to young stock. It is important that silage quality is known so the level of ration to be fed can be calculated. Silage quality needs to be analysed in a lab. A visual assessment or date of cutting may be an indicator but is not sufficient. Feeding rates of concentrate can then be decided. Most compounded rations have a 2.5% suitable mineral inclusion.  If feeding straights (e.g. Barley) then it is critical that a mineral mix is used at the rate recommended by the manufacturer. Target a ration with a Crude protein of 14% with a UFL of 92%. Good grass management and paddock grazing next spring will make the most of the compensatory growth from feeding at this level. Weanlings fed at higher levels of meal will weigh heavier going to grass but compensatory growth with cheaper grass will not be as evident. Meal feeding should also be frontloaded, that is, fed at higher levels after housing and allowed to decrease for the last two months of housing.

If the older cattle are to be finished from the shed, then for steers the ADG of 1.1 to 1.2 Kgs is what the target is through the whole period. Bulls can achieve much higher levels of ADG. As with all farm enterprises in Ireland the cheapest feed is grass, followed by silage, however quality is important, the silage needs to contribute to the ADG of the animal and not just a source of roughage. (Straw can supply the roughage much cheaper). Again as with the younger stock there is no “right” feeding rate of meal without knowing the silage quality. The ration should be 14% protein with a UFL of 92%

Below is a table indicating the concentrate feeding rates for weanlings required at different qualities of silage fed to gain 0.6kgs/day.

(Silage DMD)626872
Continental steers / bulls 3.0 2.0 1.0
Continental heifers 2.6 1.7 0.9
Friesian steers 2.6 1.7 0.9