Mid to late February is a good time to make a final call on store cattle that will kill out of the shed by late May and early June.
When assessing whether or not cattle will reach the target slaughter weight and fat cover, consider the outlined steps to base decisions on.
Do a budget based on beef price
The first step is to complete a simple budget to see if there is an economic return from intensive finishing.
Good-quality continental types carrying flesh may be worth more sold through the live ring in March compared to finishing in May or June.
Do a few simple sums on what stores are potentially worth in March, then compare this with their carcase value in late spring after deducting feed costs.
Weighing cattle first is recommended. Having an accurate liveweight will provide a sound basis for deciding to finish animals, put them back to grass or potentially sell them live.
If the aim is to finish steers by late May, animals should weigh no more than 100kg from their target finishing weight at the end of February. For heifers, animals should be 70kg to 80kg from their target finishing weight.
Stores that are too light should either go back to grass or be sold live, provided the herd is not under movement restrictions.
Change cattle on to a high energy, low protein ration
In the finishing phase, energy is more important than protein. Energy and starch will encourage animals to put on fat cover, whereas protein encourages cattle to put on lean muscle.
Cattle should also be offered high-quality silage with DMD levels at 70% or higher. There is no place for moderate and poor-quality silage in an intensive finishing diet offered to steers and heifers.
When meal levels increase above 3kg/day, split concentrates into a morning and evening feed. Limit the finishing period to 100 days for steers and 80 days for continental heifers.
Providing enough feed and lying space
When steers and heifers move on to the finishing diet, it is important that every animal can access concentrate at the same time.
This ensures dominant animals do not eat more than their allocated meal allowance and shy feeders are underfed, thereby delaying the finishing period or resulting in a light carcase.
Cattle should also have plenty of lying space in pens. If all animals cannot lie at the same time, they are overstocked and will not be thriving to potential.
Healthy animals will thrive
Make sure cattle are free of internal and external parasites before the finishing period begins. Lice will irritate cattle and reduce weight gain.
Make sure fluke and worm treatments given in early winter were effective. If cattle are exhibiting signs of parasite problems, treat them before increasing concentrate levels.