Many dairy calf to beef farms operate a 24-month system that sees cattle finished out of the shed in February and March.
As we enter the final few weeks pre-slaughter, there should be one final push to maximise performance and the subsequent carcase weights achieved from these cattle.
Typically, once cattle are housed for the second and final winter, there is around 100kg to 120kg liveweight gain still to be put on.
To achieve this over a 120- to 150-day period, it means a diet of good-quality silage (70 DMD+) alongside 5kg of meal.
Where silage quality if poorer - under 70DMD - the need for concentrate supplementation will be even greater.
At this stage, cattle should be well settled on diets, but if you feel that performance is not as good as it should be, it is still worth weighing cattle now to determine daily liveweight gain.
Where it is poorer than expected, you will need to find out why.
The silage sample you are working to needs to reflect the silage you are feeding
Firstly, I would question the silage quality – is it feeding as well as it tested?
Have you entered a new batch of bales or gone from a second-cut silage to a first-cut silage?
The silage sample you are working to needs to reflect the silage you are feeding.
It is always worthwhile sending off a silage sample at the mid-point of winter, as it just reassures you that the analysis is correct.
Where silage quality is not the issue, you need to consider the health status of the animals.
Did you get the winter dose programme correct? It may be worth dung sampling a proportion of the animals to check.
If all else is correct, then it is time to consider the type and amount of ration you are feeding. Are you feeding at the level that you think you are?
It is not recommended to change ration at this stage of the system, as doing so could cause dietary upsets and a period of under-performance while cattle get used to the changeover.
At this point, if performance is sub-optimal, it is better to feed an extra kilo or so of ration for the final few weeks.
Carcase fat score
Drafting cattle for slaughter should be done regularly. All animals in the batch are not going to be ready for slaughter on the one day.
It is always a good idea to draft a small number of cattle for the first kill, as this allows you to assess where the cattle are in terms of carcase fat score.
It also gives you a better indication of the grade and overall killout that you can expect from the batch.
Talk to your processor now rather than when you need cattle to be slaughtered
Getting the fat score correct is really important to maximise the value of each animal.
For the majority of processors, you need to hit a fat score of at least a 2+.
This shouldn’t be an issue with early-maturing animals, but continentals will need close attention.
Likewise, you do not want to go over-fat into fat score 4, as doing so will result in a price penalty with many processors, as well as the fact that a fat animal is no longer efficient and will be costing more to feed than it will be putting on in carcase weight.
Talk to your processor now rather than when you need cattle to be slaughtered.
Have a discussion around specification and timing with them to ensure your cattle can be killed when they are ready.