26 July 2002

No benefits in pushing cattle hard too early

FOR Hereford cattle to develop fully they do not need to be pushed, and should be allowed to mature at their own rate on a grass-based ration, Keenan nutritionist Donald Brown told visitors to Meadow Qualitys open day.

"Producers should aim for a uniform and continual growth rate from birth to finishing, and that rate should be about 0.8kg a day." To achieve this, feed diets with high fibre content, reasonable protein percentages and low energy levels until 2-3 months before slaughter. Then introduce a diet with higher energy and protein levels to ensure cattle are finished properly.

There were three defined periods to a beef animals lifetime, rearing, growing and finishing, said Mr Brown.

"During the rearing stage, up to 200 days, calves are reliant on either their mother or the feeder to provide a supply of milk. This milk can be supplemented with both grass and creep feeding, but milk will play a pivotal role in the early development of the animal."

From 200 days to 500 days, the animal is in the growing stage and should be fed a diet with a protein content of 14-16% but lower in starch and energy. This will enable the animal to put on frame without running to fat too early.

"Once the animal is 16 months it can be fed a diet more suited to finishing."

Critical to any extensive cattle rearing system is the quality of forage fed. Poor quality silage is the most expensive feed available and should not be fed to finishing animals. Cattle should also not be left out on poor quality grass without supplementary feeding, as growth rates will suffer. This could not be corrected by extra feeding in later months, warned Mr Brown.

"This year more than most, it will be vital for producers to have forages analysed. Once this has been done, balance feeds with specific ingredients which are nutrient rich in certain areas," recommended Mr Brown. &#42

Pushing Hereford sires too early will not benefit producers in the long term, says Donald Brown of Keenan.