Profit margins for finishing beef cattle could be unwittingly eroded this winter by producers feeding "affordable" protein pelleted feed which looks right on paper, is palatable to cattle but does not support targeted daily liveweight gain (DLWG).
The rising cost of both cereals and protein feeds this autumn has already put beef margins under pressure, said Keenan's Seth Wareing. "Many finishers will be looking hard for what they can feed to cattle this winter. Ad-lib cereal at £200/t and a cheap protein pellet at £200-220/t may look like an option costing around £2.30 a head a day for a 500kg animal, but you must ensure you are getting targeted DLWG and not just gut fill.
"There are options for finishers but they must be aware some of the cheap feeds being offered are cheap for a reason. Unlike a milk tank, which is emptied daily, you cannot see a sudden drop in performance of beef cattle. Regular weight checks are essential to monitor performance," he warned.
One option being put forward this autumn is for a maize forage, rolled barley and cheap beef protein pellet ration. Mr Wareing said: "While this may look like a simple solution it may not be as affordable as hoped if it doesn't deliver targeted DLWG.
"Cheap protein pellets are predominately urea-based and use a low-cost carrier such as wheat. You will get gut fill, but you may not get good growth," he added.
On this diet a 500kg beef animal would cost £2.31 a head a day to feed. The same animal on a forage (maize) and by-product ration will be costing about £1.87 a head a day to feed," he added (see table).
"Finishers should be achieving 1.2-1.5kg a head a day DLWG. To get that performance, where using home-grown forage have it tested using samples from across the clamp face to establish quality. The pit may be full but lacking in energy after this year's challenging season," said Mr Wareing.
"For example, to achieve the same level of energy a poor silage at 9-10 ME would need 7kg of cereal to be offered compared with a good silage of 11-12 ME requiring 5kg of cereal for a beef finishing ration," he calculated.
As with all rations, whether forage or cereal-based, finishers need to be monitoring DLWG. Running the same pen of cattle through a weigh crush weekly can act as a simple guide to monitor performance.
"With margins tight finishers need to be aware of feed options. Some look good on paper, are palatable to cattle but won't deliver extra kilos on which they get paid. With high store cattle prices this autumn and high feed costs, margins could be eroded unless cattle weights are checked regularly."
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