When moving forward store cattle on to an intensive finishing diet, it is not just a matter of offering higher levels of meal and leaving animals to it.

Once concentrate levels increase, animals must be performing to their potential to cover the rise in feed costs.

There are also some considerations to bear in mind. These include animal type, breed, parasite control, silage quality and how long to keep animals in the fattening phase.

Outlined are five steps to consider when starting beef cattle on intensive finishing diets over winter.

1. Ration type

Finishing cattle should be offered a high-energy, low-protein ration, as the aim is to develop fat cover, not lean tissue and frame.

Aim for a high cereal based ration consisting mainly of barley and maize meal.

In the Republic of Ireland, energy values are measured in UFV levels, while in Northern Ireland, energy is expressed as ME.

When purchasing a finishing ration, it should have a minimum UFV level of 0.94. A higher UFV means the ration has more energy available.

For ME-based rations, energy levels should be around 12.5Mj, or better.

Keep protein levels to around 13% to 14%. Any higher and animals will be slower to put on fat cover. Normally, rations are sold without the energy value printed, so make sure to ask your feed merchant for this figure.

Also, ingredients used in a ration are listed in order of inclusion, so barley and maize should be listed in the top three ingredients. Include a product such as soya hulls or beet pulp to increase digestible fibre levels in rations.

2. How long should the finishing period last?

Feed conversion efficiency varies with different types and breeds of cattle. Heifers will go fat before steers and steers will go fat before bulls. Native beef breeds will go fat before continental breeds.

When intensively feeding heifers, limit the length of the feeding period to around 50 to 60 days for native breeds and 70 to 80 days for continental-bred heifers.

For steers with native beef breeding, limit intensive feeding to around 70 days, increasing to a maximum of 90 days for continental types. Young bulls can be held on intensive finishing diets for 150 to 200 days.

3. Feed levels

The level of concentrate required will depend on silage quality. However, there is no place for below average silage in finishing diets.

When feeding good silage of 70+DMD, offer heifers with native beef breeding on 3kg/day, with continental types getting 4kg/day.

On 66% to 69% DMD silage, feed an extra 0.5kg to 1kg/day of concentrate to each group.

For steers on good-quality silage, animals with native breeding can be offered on 4kg/day, rising to 6kg/day for continental types. For above-quality silage, continental types will need 7kg to 8kg/day.

When feeding more than 3kg/head on a daily basis, split concentrates over two or three feeds to avoid acidosis.

Always make sure cattle on high concentrate diets have access to forage with reasonable levels of fibre.

4. Water

As concentrate levels increase, the diet has a higher dry matter, meaning cattle have a greater requirement for water.

Keep troughs clean, as soiled water will reduce feed intake and, ultimately, animal performance.

5. Lying and feed space

Make sure cattle have plenty of lying space and all animals can access concentrates at the feed face at the same time. Otherwise, some animals will eat more than their allocation and others will get less.

All animals should also be able to lie at the same time. Group cattle based on their final liveweight, otherwise cattle can quickly become overstocked in pens, which impacts growth rates.

For example, a group of 10 bullocks averaging 680kg and gaining 1.2kg/day will gain 84kg every week, which is the equivalent of adding an extra animal to the pen every eight weeks.

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