All the finishing cattle were weighed this week on the Thrive demo farm and despite a good supply of grass ahead of stock, growth rates have slowed significantly over the last two weeks.

At this point, there needs to be a decision made about the best approach with the remaining finishing cattle on farm.

While we want to finish as many as possible off grass, at the same time we must be realistic and concede that not all cattle are suited to this system and will not achieve a sufficient level of finish at grass necessary to meet the minimum carcase fat score required.

These animals are mostly the late-maturing breeds and predominantly bullocks. Also within this group, are larger-framed, more Holstein-type animals that will take further feeding before being fit for slaughter.

Why house cattle?

It may be questioned as to why we would even consider housing stock at this stage with grass supply on farm excellent and ground conditions holding up very well for the time of year. However, there is little point continuing with feeding meal to cattle at grass if we are not getting the required level of performance from it.

Meal costs to the bullocks is over €8.50/week so we need to see a return on this investment. Housing cattle will do two things:

  • Firstly it will give us greater control over the diet in terms of dry matter intake. With changeable weather the dry matter in the grass at the moment is quite variable and so during periods of wet weather energy intake is going to be reduced.
  • Secondly, if cattle are housed the amount of energy they burn for maintenance will be reduced as they won’t be walking around as much and indoors, their temperature will be kept more constant.
  • The silage we are feeding them will be in the low 70’s in terms of DMD but this, combined with an extra kilo or two of meal will see improved growth rates for the final few weeks.

    Diet changeover

    The animals we select to house will be carefully considered. They will be at least six weeks out from being drafted. The problem with housing cattle closer to slaughter is that you will delay slaughter date by about 10 days to two weeks as it takes the cattle time to get used to their new diet indoors.

    Grass utilisation

    Another benefit of housing some of the finishing stock would be that we are then able to hold this year’s calves out at grass for longer, meaning we still make the most of the grass left on farm. They are lighter cattle so the risk of doing damage to paddocks is reduced.