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Developing more sustainable beef finishing strategies through improved nutrition and growth of animals

10 July 2020
Type Media Article

Economic sustainability of beef farming needs to be improved, while simultaneously its environmental footprint needs to be reduced. The efficiency of converting feed into meat protein in a cost-effective sustainable manner requires new understanding of the effects of forage nutritive value and supplementation of concentrates.

Economic sustainability of beef farming needs to be improved, while simultaneously its environmental footprint needs to be reduced.  Feed provision is the principal variable cost in beef production systems and primary feed costs relate to indoor or winter-feeding periods, especially when feeding ‘finishing’ cattle. Consequently, feed costs per kg carcass gain must be minimised. Feed efficiency is central to both the economic and environmental sustainability of beef production enterprises; this is achieved through optimised animal genetics, nutrition and associated management. The efficiency of converting feed into meat protein in a cost-effective sustainable manner requires new understanding of the effects of forage nutritive value and supplementation of concentrates, including native cereal and protein feed ingredients, on intake, carcass growth and the release of emissions, such as nitrogen, into the environment.

Using a combination of desk studies, farm surveys and on-farm investigations, as well as comprehensive cattle growth and metabolism experiments, the key objectives of this research are to: 1) characterise the feeding-related practices and quantify animal performance and efficiency on Irish commercial specialised beef finishing units, 2) quantify the feed efficiency response curve in finishing cattle according to animal type, management and feeding practices, and 3) assess the feeding value of native grains (e.g. oats), and ‘protein’ crops (e.g. beans and peas), as feedstuffs for beef cattle. Overall, this project will provide much more targeted winter-feeding recommendations and key performance indicators for beef finishing enterprises to enable more feed cost efficient and environmentally sustainable production.

Rian Kennedy, Aidan Moloney, Edward O’Riordan, Alan Kelly and Mark McGee