Forward planning vital to prevent feed shortages

Supplementing stock at grass and forward planning winter feed stocks is a must to maximise finishing rates and prevent feed shortages this season.

Beef producers should prepare for market volatility and ensure winter energy supplies are “locked on” now, according to independent beef and sheep consultant David Hendy.

“Farmers should be aware that there will be pressures on the market and prepare accordingly.”

Although co-products currently look cost effective, prices are likely to escalate with cereal prices. “I would not want to gamble on low wheat prices – it is well worth making contingency plans now and securing co-product energy sources such as biscuit meal, bread or potatoes.”

And farmers that are concerned about this year’s maize crops should consider buying in stock feed potatoes to bulk maize up in the clamp, he says.

With some producers being forced to feed winter forage at grass, putting contingency plans in place to prevent winter shortages is essential, says EBLEX’s Clive Brown.

“It could be worth taking a late silage cut – the bulk may not be there, but you could top it up with cereals.” Putting a field aside for stubble turnips is also an option.

Those facing a winter forage shortage should look to extend their supplies by using moist feeds or straw, says nutritionist Melanie White.

However, with the good price of cereal, it is better to feed cereals outside and maintain winter forage supplies, says Mr Hendy.

With grass thin on the ground in most areas of the country, supplementary feeding at grazing is a must for the majority of beef producers.

“Those wanting to finish cattle in late autumn should be feeding a balanced cereal mix at grass, gradually building up feeding rates to 3-4kg a day over two feeds when feasible.”

However with a large number of cattle coming forward into the market, it may be worth holding back some animals and finishing them later, he says.

“When winter forage supply is a potential issue, this may not be the best option. Choosing to hold back stock will obviously depend on individual farmers and feed availability.”

However, late finishing stock should also be provided with about 1-1.5kg concentrate a head a day at grass to ensure energy needs are met.

At this time of year there can be as much fibre as leaf in the sward and performance can drop to 0.5-0.75kg a day, explains DARDNI’s Gerry Donnelly.

“In July and August producers should aim to keep beef cattle gaining about 1kg a day.” But this can only be achieved with a good supply of quality grass or grass/clover ahead of them.

Finishing cattle intended for slaughter in the next six weeks will benefit from concentrate feeding, he says.

“Supplementary feeding of beef cattle at grass increases growth rate, kill out percentage, level of finish and results in better marketing of beef cattle.

“Start by feeding 1-2kg a day and increase up to 3-4kg a day depending on grass quality and the size of animal,” says Mr Donnelly. At this relatively low rate, producers should expect a response of about 1kg carcass weight for every 12kg concentrate fed.

“With concentrate costs at about £160/t and beef about £2.60 a kilogram, this gives a reasonable return. Suitable feeds include rolled barley, beet pulp, citrus, and gluten or maize distillers – with sufficient protein in the grass, good energy feeds are best.

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