I am feeding weanlings with 2kg of rolled barley alongside decent quality silage. Is this sufficient to meet growth targets for the winter?

Not knowing the actual quality of the silage makes it difficult to accurately advise on winter diets.

However, there are two potential issues that would need to be considered with this diet.

First of all, there is more than likely going to be an issue with the overall protein level of the diet (silage plus concentrate) which should be around 15% for young, growing animals.

Grass silage will typically range from 11.5% to 13.5% crude protein unless there are very high levels of clover in the silage which will elevate crude protein levels significantly.

Typically, weanling rations are around 16% crude protein in order to lift the overall diet crude protein level. The worry with feeding rolled barley alone is that at a crude protein level of around 11.5% there is not going to be sufficient protein levels to support the amount of growth required with a typical grass silage.

The stock on this diet will thrive and put on weight over winter

Protein is an important component, especially for young stock in order for them to grow their frame.

The stock on this diet will thrive and put on weight over winter. However, this may result in fleshy cattle coming out of the shed in spring having done very little skeletal growth.

This diet could be easily rectified by buying a protein feed to balance out the diet. Soya bean meal is an excellent source of protein, which could be top-dressed with the rolled barley at a rate that would complement the silage quality being fed.

Protein sources grown closer to home should also be considered using either rolled peas or beans.

A powder mineral fed daily on top of the silage or a mineral bolus should be considered

The second potential issue is around mineral supplementation. Again, buying a balanced ration will normally include minerals and vitamins to provide an animal’s daily requirements based on typical feeding levels. A powder mineral fed daily on top of the silage or a mineral bolus should be considered in this situation.

What ration should I feed young bulls on an under 16-month system for the final finishing phase?

Under 16-month bull beef is a specialised production system and should be carefully considered before being commenced. It is also worth speaking to other farmers operating this system as well as your agricultural adviser and/or a feed company nutritionist.

It is recommended to speak to a beef processor to gauge their interest in bull beef over the coming months.

Next, you need a weanling bull coming off the cow at a minimum weight of 320kg at seven to eight months old. From here, it is about the quality of feed that goes into the system.

While a growing ration will need to be fed for the first few months (typically around 16% crude protein) alongside high-quality grass silage, bulls should be built up to ad-libitum concentrate feed for the final 120 to 150 days.

Protein levels for an under 16-month bull beef system need to be higher than for a typical bullock finishing ration

This ration should comprise high-quality ingredients and have a high cereal component (up to 70%) coming in the form of either barley or maize.

Protein levels for an under 16-month bull beef system need to be higher than for a typical bullock finishing ration as the animal has a higher growth potential and is also still relatively young. Therefore, a ration of around 14% crude protein can be used for this system.

Is there any way to reduce meal feeding costs this winter?

Concentrate prices have increased significantly over the last 12 months but by implementing these simple tips you could save a significant amount of money this winter.

1 Know what you need to feed

Having silage analysed accurately is the first step in making sure you are only buying the amount and type of concentrate that you require. From this, match your concentrate feeding rate to achieve the required level of performance.

2 Price around

It is always worthwhile pricing around for a ration, even when you have no intention of switching supplier. At least you can be sure that you are getting a decent price from your merchant. When doing this be sure you are comparing like with like.

3 Bargain hard

Before doing a deal, make sure you have negotiated the best possible price. Let them know how many cattle you are feeding and what sort of tonnage of meal you will be using this winter. Where volumes are significant they are more likely to be keen to do a deal. Credit is another important point, if you are able to agree a 30-day credit or even a price on delivery it could be worth an extra €5/t off for you.

4 Buy bulk rather than by the bag

Buying by the bag will be in the region of €30/t to €40/t more expensive than buying bulk feed. Where a farm is not set up with a meal bin or meal storage, buying a half-tonne black bin that goes on the bale lifter is the next best step.

5 Buy a course ration rather than a nut

Buying a ration over a nut will save between €10/t to €15/t, which can add up over the course of the entire winter period. Manufacturing a nut obviously costs the feed mill money to run the machine and, therefore, they have to charge more money for a nut.

Silage analysis: Tullamore Farm and Thrive demo farm

The first-cut silage on Tullamore Farm is 71.5% DMD at 12.7% crude protein, while the second cut has an analysis of 67% DMD and 12.3% crude protein.

From the outset, it is important to note that these are two very different silages and should be targeted at stock to do two very different jobs.

The first cut is going to be fed to priority stock such as weanlings and any thinner cows.

The second cut, which was allowed to grow on and “bulk up” slightly will be fed to the dry cows over winter and it is just fine for this job of maintaining condition or for being fed to cows that can afford to lose some condition in the run up to calving.

If the second-cut silage was to be fed to the heifer weanlings, in order to achieve a daily liveweight gain of 0.65kg/day over the winter period, 2kg/day of concentrate would need to be fed compared to just 1kg/day when offered the first-cut silage.

Over the entire winter period, this translates to a meal cost saving of almost €40/head.

On the Thrive, dairy calf-to-beef demonstration farm, the silage analysis has come back at an average of 69% DMD and 13% protein. This is lower than in recent years when it has typically been around 74% DMD.

The reason for the lower quality this year is due to cutting date being delayed for a fortnight of bad weather in mid-May. The silage ground was grazed in November 2020 and so was not grazed in spring prior to being closed for silage. Looking back, there was a window of opportunity to cut around 9 May.

However, it was felt that it was slightly too early, given the fertiliser application dates and rates.

The weather then broke for two weeks in which time the quality of the crop suffered slightly.

What it means is that more meal will need to be fed to this year’s stock over the first winter period. Operating a 19-month system that slaughters cattle off grass at the end of the second grazing season, there is a need for stock to be thriving every day they are on the farm.

For this reason, a target liveweight gain of 0.8kg/day is set for the winter period.

In order to achieve that this year, there is a need to feed 2.5kg/day of concentrate. This is 1kg/day more than last year and will result in an extra meal feeding cost of €40/head this winter.

WINTER CATTLE SERIES: The Irish Farmers Journal/AXA Insurance winter cattle series continues on Thursday 2 December at 8pm at www.ifj.ie/live. This week, the focus is on animal health.