In the previous pages we have outlined what needs to be done to remain on target up to the final phase. Here we outline finishing targets for stock

19-month system

For cattle on target to be slaughtered at the end of the second grazing season, concentrate supplementation will more than likely need to be introduced from early August.

In recent years on the demonstration farm, introducing concentrates a fortnight earlier in the season increased the proportion of cattle slaughtered off grass and reduced the overall concentrate input compared to cattle housed for finishing.

In 2019, holding off concentrate supplementation until early- to mid-September resulted in fewer cattle being slaughtered off grass, meaning a housed finishing period in which we ended up feeding more meal than if we had started feeding at grass at an earlier date.

In 2020 we weighed all cattle on 1 August. Any heifers over 470kg and bullocks over 490kg were introduced to meal feeding at a rate of 3kg to heifers and 4kg to bullocks. The reason for this was we didn’t want heifers on meal for more than six weeks or bullocks for more than eight weeks prior to slaughter.

The ration used was a simple four-way mix of barley, maize, soya hulls and distillers grains for finishing cattle. The ration had an energy value of 0.95 UFL (1kg of air dried barley has a UFL of 1) and a crude protein of 12%.

Energy is the main component needed for finishing rations, especially when finishing at pasture as protein levels are more than plentiful in grass in autumn.

The remainder of the cattle started the same level of meal feeding as outlined above from 1 September. In reality, it is highly unlikely that all animals on farm will be of a sufficient weight and level of finish to be slaughtered at the end of the grazing period. Some animals will need to be housed for at least a short finishing period. The main aim here should be to minimise that number as much as possible.

Weighing and handling

Cattle were brought in and weighed every two to three weeks over the finishing period. Actually seeing the cattle individually in the race and assessing the level of finish and carcase fat was equally if not more important than weighing the animal itself.

Weights were more of a guide to see if animals were still performing. As an animal reaches its mature weight or finished weight, liveweight gain reduces as the animal starts to put its energy into laying down fat rather than lean muscle.

It takes three times as much energy to lay down a kilo of fat as it does a kilo of muscle. Therefore, an animal that is laying down a lot of fat is an inefficient animal to have on farm. They also run the risk of going out of spec for carcase fat score if left on farm too long. This can result in financial penalties in the final beef price paid.

This regular weighing and handling is really necessary, especially during the main drafting periods. It is amazing how these cattle can go from being under-fleshed to over-fat in what seems like a matter of days. This is especially true for Angus and Hereford heifers.

Farmers that are not used to drafting cattle for slaughter or maybe haven’t done it for a while should contact their processor as they will be able to guide you as to when to send each animal. From a processor point of view, they want every carcase to have a sufficient level of carcase fat while not being overdone so much that they need to spend time trimming off excess fat. Therefore, they will select the animals at just the correct stage.

24-month finish

If growth targets are not hit at each phase along the way, farmers can quickly find themselves forced into housing stock for winter finishing. This will also be the option faced by farmers where late-spring-born calves have being reared.

Where this is happening, farmers must be aware that production costs are going to be much higher with winter finishing. Therefore, good performance is required to try to offset the increased cost. Top-quality silage is a must – at least 70DMD.

Concentrate feeding levels will be determined by breed and sex of the animals. Early maturing stock, and especially heifers, should only be fed a high level of concentrate (5kg to 6kg) for around 60 days.

Late-maturing animals or bigger-framed bullocks can be pushed on for around 80 to 100 days in some cases.

26– to 28-month finishing

For some farmers, where April-born calves were purchased, or weight gain targets have not been met, or where silage quality for the finishing phase is poor and meal inputs are going to be high, it may make more sense to run cattle on for a partial third grazing season.

Research carried out in Teagasc, Johnstown Castle, has shown a 28-month finish for dairy beef systems to be more profitable than winter finishing out of the shed.

However, this will depend on the farm setup. Are there sufficient housing facilities to carry stock throughout the entire winter? Will the farm have the capacity to carry stock for the first few months of the grazing season?

Will delaying slaughter for another two to four months have a negative effect on cashflow on the farm?