In a 19-month dairy-beef production system, heifers should currently be averaging between 440kg and 445kg, while bullocks should be somewhere around the 465kg mark, assuming an average birth date of 10 March 2020.

Where calves are younger, obviously they are going to be lighter and, therefore, the point of slaughter is that bit further away.

Other factors that will determine your target slaughter date include the breed and sex of animal you are working with, along with your location in the country, your land type and your demand for grass throughout autumn and early winter.

On heavier farms, this could mean aiming for a late August or early-September slaughter date to have stock off the ground before conditions deteriorate or it could mean a later slaughter date after a short housing period for the final month to six week.

Know the end point

The important thing is to know the target end point first, and work backwards.

The problem with introducing meal feeding to finishing stock too soon, especially with traditional breeds of Angus and Hereford, is that they can go over-fat very quickly.

This can occur even at relatively light liveweights, which means farmers end up taking a penalty in the factory for over-fat carcases or kill at lighter weights and end up with a small payment due to the lack of carcase weight.

This means that for the majority of dairy-beef stock, it is still too early to start feeding meal at grass.


Typically for heifers, one month to six weeks is a sufficient feeding time prior to slaughter.

However, there will be variation even within breeds, so a close eye needs to be kept on stock to make sure you are drafting at the correct carcase fat score.

Meal feeding should be introduced at 2kg/day and after a few days increased to 3kg/day.

Finishing cattle came into the shed for meal feeding on the demo farm last year to save damaging ground around troughs.

Provided grass quality and supply is adequate, this level of feeding should be sufficient in most cases.

Where a higher level of meal feeding may be required is for breeds such as Belgian Blue or Charolais. For these types of heifers, up to 5kg/day could be fed for the final three to four weeks.


Bullocks can handle a longer period of feeding without going over-fat compared with heifers. However, eight to 10 weeks of feeding should be sufficient in most cases.

Feeding rates for bullocks should also be introduced at 2kg/day. Build this up over the course of 10 days to 4.5kg/day by increasing the feeding rate by a half kilo every second day.

While this may sound like a very slow build-up period, often stock will be moved to a new paddock of fresh grass within the build-up phase, which can reduce their appetite for meal for the first 24 hours after being moved.

Sticking to the above protocol will minimise any risk of digestion upsets.

Again, where continental breeds are being fed, supplementation rates may need to be increased by 1.5kg to 2kg to the above.

Top tips for feeding meal at grass

  • A simple three-way mix ration is more than adequate. Look for high cereal contents – barley and/or maize should be the first ingredients listed on the label.
  • Energy is the main constituent needed in a finishing ration. Protein levels of between 11% and 12% are suitable for finishing off grass.
  • If you are new to finishing cattle or are out of practice at drafting stock for slaughter, it is best to ask your processor or factory agent to come and look at the stock a few weeks prior to them being ready for slaughter.
  • Think safety. Feeding meal at grass to cattle can be dangerous if you are entering a paddock to put meal in a trough.
  • Feeding cattle in a trough on the ground under a single strand electric fence means you do not need to enter the paddock that stock are in.