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Teagasc Advisory Tips for Feeding and Wintering Cattle

15 December 2017
Type Media Article

By Anthony O'Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit

On most beef farms, all stock are housed by now. Housed cattle will be fed on a diet of silage and concentrates. Increased levels of meal will be fed this year due to poor silage quality and availability. Silage may be in short supply on some farms due to early housing of stock. Aim to maximise animal thrive by following some basic principles during the winter housing period.


Your silage quality will determine the feeding strategy for all your stock. Knowing your silage quality and DMD% is essential to formulate a feeding strategy for cattle.

  • Digestibility -The digestibility of any feed is the percentage of what is eaten that does not pass out in the dung of livestock. The DMD (Dry Matter Digestibility) is used as an index for the feed value of forages, the higher the value, the better the feeding value of the forage, e.g. leafy silage (74% to 76%) compared to stemmy silage (60% to 65%). From experience, visual assessment, texture and smell, most farmers will know whether they have good or poor quality silage. However, a more detailed analysis costing only €35 would be very beneficial. This would tell you how good your silage actually is, what the DMD% is and what level of concentrate feeding you would need with it. Consult your Teagasc Adviser or Agricultural Consultant about getting your silage analysed.  
  • If purchasing bales of silage, buy from a known source. When buying, ensure bales are well sealed, good quality and there is no Ragwort, excess thistles or ferns present in the bales.
  • Keep face of silage pits straight and neat when using a shear grab, this will reduce aerobic deterioration at the pit face.

Feeding Concentrates:

  • Keep stock on a consistent diet. Once settled, cattle thrive best when they are fed the same ration at the same time daily. Changing the ration will lead to change of microorganism type and balance in the rumen, this causes rumen inefficiency and digestive upsets.
  • If feeding concentrates, such as rolled barley or wheat; they should be introduced slowly, gradually increasing the amount being fed.
  • Once the amount of ration being fed exceeds 5kg, split the ration feeding the same amount twice daily at the same time each day.
  • Crude protein content is important for growing stock such as weanlings, replacement heifers, store cattle as all of these stock require 15 to 16% CP in a ration: It is energy content of ration that puts the flesh on beef cattle.    
  • When purchasing a ration or compound feed from your Agri-merchant or feed supplier, request a list of ingredients. If you look at the label on the bag or the delivery docket, it will list the ingredients in descending order, ie, highest inclusion rates to lowest inclusion rates. 
  • A quality ration should contain high levels of quality ingredients such as rolled barley, wheat, soya bean, maize gluten etc.
  • Purchased compound feeds or rations will have minerals and vitamins included and will be balanced. If feeding suckler cows, check for the inclusion of trace elements such as Copper, Iodine Selenium.
  • Any ration being fed to stock should be palatable, fresh smelling and free of dust. Ensure clean, fresh drinking water is available at all times. Check water bowls daily for dirt or ice and clean out where necessary. Adequate feeding space at feed barriers/shutters should be available for all stock being fed concentrates.
  • Purchasing 25kg bags is convenient, but you pay dearly for the convenience. Buying in bulk or bulk bags is cheaper. But good storage facilities needed. 

Shed Environment:

  • As stock grow, so too does the space required by animals. If your pens are overstocked, animal performance will suffer. This is due to restricted movement in pens which in turn reduces free access to forage.
  • Good ventilation is vital for all stock. Signs of poor ventilation are condensation on roofs and other surfaces, mould growth on timbers, wet coats and dirty hides on cattle. Usually, simple structural changes to the side walls and roof of a shed is enough to rectify the problem of poor ventilation. Leave sliding doors open as much as possible in slatted sheds to provide fresh air.  
  • Exercise will benefit stock. Where 2 or 3 pens adjoin each other with cattle of the same sex, age and weight, the gates between pens could be taken out, thus providing more space for animals to move about. This is especially important for suckler cows and in calf heifers as they approach calving time.