Farmers planning to finish cattle from April to June should be moving animals from the store phase into the intensive feeding period.

As sudden changes in feed can cause rumen upsets, outlined are five tips to transition cattle from a store to finishing diet.

1. Switch to a high-energy, lower-protein ration

During the finishing period, the aim is to get as much energy into cattle as possible. This will help cattle lay down fat rather than lean muscle, helping to cover animals properly.

Meal feed to store cattle tends to have higher protein levels, around 16%, to grow frame. Continuing to feed such a ration will see animals struggling to gain fat cover.

Instead, switch to a high-cereal ration, with a protein content around 12% to 13%. Rolled barley and maize should be the two main ingredients, making up at least 75% of the mix.

Having a good source of rumen digestible fibre included, such as soya hulls or sugar beet pulp, is also recommended.

2. Gradually switch to the finishing ration

Barley and maize-based finishing rations are high in starch and easily digested, which can alter rumen pH.

As such, a sudden change to a finishing mix can increase the risk of digestive upsets. Aim to gradually switch rations over the course of one week to 10 days.

Start by feeding 75% of the growing ration and 25% finishing blend. After three to four days, move to a 50:50 mix, then increase to a 75% finishing blend, and finally 100%.

3. Split concentrate feeding between a morning and evening feed

When meal levels increase above 3kg/day, it is highly recommended to split it over two feeds with a morning and evening allocation.

Again, that prevents animals from gorging on a high-cereal ration and potentially developing acidosis.

4. Fibre and fresh water

Cattle should always have a constant supply of fresh palatable forage available, especially once meal levels increase above 3kg/day.

Forage will provide fibre, and it is the fibre which helps the rumen function properly, thereby reducing the risk of acidosis when high levels of meal are fed.

Fresh water is also important in the finishing diet. Roughly speaking, cattle will drink five to six litres for every 1kg of meal fed.

Keep water troughs clean to encourage drinking, otherwise meal intakes will be reduced, as will liveweight gain.

5. Feed and lying space

Adequate space at the feed barrier is important when feeding a set allocation of meal every day.

If all cattle cannot stand at the barrier when meal is offered, some animals will eat more than their allocation and others will be underfed.

Similarly, all animals should have adequate lying space. If all cattle in a pen cannot lie at the same time, the pen is overstocked and weight gain will suffer, despite meal feeding.

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