Concentrate prices have increased again this month by between €15/t and €20/t. At this point, a tonne of meal is costing €100 more than the same time last year.
What this means for weanlings being supplemented with 2kg/day concentrate is an additional €25/head to €35/head wintering costs, depending on winter length.
Where weanlings are destined to return to pasture in spring, some farmers are debating the opportunity to reduce meal feeding now in an attempt to reduce the total winter feed cost.
The first thing to consider here prior to any change in diet is the quality and quantity of silage sitting in the yard. If silage is in short supply, or where silage quality is relatively poor for a diary beef system ie below 68DMD, then reducing concentrates at the moment is probably a false economy.
In doing so, you will end up in a situation where you run out of silage and have to try and source some to cover you until turnout or, where silage quality is low, performance will be reduced so much so, that even with compensatory growth at grass, stock will never reach their full potential.
If silage is not an issue on farm, the next thing to consider is animal liveweight. Weighing cattle mid-winter is always a good idea in order to see if the performance in the shed is adequate while making sure cattle are on target for the time of year.
Where stock are above target, there may be a case made for pulling back concentrate supplementation slightly – by 0.5kg-1kg/head/day. The target for a 20-month production system is to have bullocks weighing 310kg and heifers 295kg by mid-January.
Preparing for grass
Where there is an opportunity to reduce meal feeding is in the final month or six weeks prior to turnout. Depending on where you are in the country and your land type, this period could be coming close. Seven weeks from now is the first week of March.
If this is your target turnout date and you are currently feeding meal at 2kg/day, you could reduce supplementation to 1kg/day by next weekend and then cease meal feeding for the final four weeks pre-turnout.
What this does is help prepare the rumen of the animal for digesting forage rather than concentrate and so when cattle go to grass there is not an abrupt changeover of diet.
By doing this you could save almost €25/head on concentrate costs. While it might not sound like a massive saving, on a bullock with a 290kg carcase, this equates to an additional 8c/kg beef price.