Lowest price isn’t always the best deal for beef rations

All beef producers may be feeling the affect of high feed prices, but it’s intensive and semi-intensive finishers selling cattle at between 13-18 months of age who are likely to be the worst affected, according to KW nutritionist, Richard Wynn.

“These enterprises rely more heavily on concentrates to achieve the necessary growth rates, so it’s important prompt action is taken to keep feed costs as low as possible this winter.”

As well as feed prices being high across the board, some units are also low on winter forage. And on average, the volume of silage available across the country is down by 10-15%, but this figure masks those who have a serious shortage.

“With supplies of the better value alternatives already under pressure, a pro-active approach and good use of forward contracts is going to be essential, with availability perhaps just as big an issue as price.”

For those finishing cattle on silage-based rations, any forage shortage needs to be addressed now as options may be limited, and prices higher, when additional feeds are not bought until silages run out later in the winter.

Straw or whole-crop cereal silages may be an option, but are likely to dilute the energy content of the ration and lengthen the time taken for cattle to finish unless the ration is properly re-balanced.

“A better option is pressed sugar beet pulp, which is high in energy and available for clamping from early October onwards,” Dr Wynn says. “Other moist feeds like Traffordgold or brewers’ grains are also worth considering when available.

“The key is to focus on value for money, not cost a tonne. The best value feeds are rarely the cheapest, but they are the most cost-effective, supporting good growth for an overall lower finishing cost. Just make sure to get deliveries booked in quickly.”

In terms of energy feeds, Dr Wynn recommends pressed pulp as the current best buy for the winter, with dried sugar beet feed also good value compared to cereals. When more starch is needed, consider high-starch confectionery blends, or processed bread when available.

For producers looking to reduce protein costs, one option for extra rumen degradable protein (RDP) is straight urea. However, although low-cost in terms of “protein”, urea does need to be used carefully, and mixed thoroughly into the ration, to avoid problems.

“Many beef units will find it easier to use a ready-mixed molasses-based liquid feed containing slow-release urea. It’s a better value source of rumen protein than rapemeal, and has the added advantage of improving palatability, reducing dust and supplying rapidly fermentable energy to help kick-start rumen fermentation,” adds Dr Wynn.

The other main protein options to consider are distillers’ feeds. High in both protein (up to 32% CP) and energy (up to 15MJ ME/kg DM), these feeds are excellent value when the benefits of both are taken into account during ration formulation.

Beef producers north of the border should look to secure supplies of the high quality Scottish distillers’ feeds while those in England and Wales will generally find a better deal on EU-produced bioethanol wheat distillers’ feed.

Dr Wynn also warns against cutting out products like yeasts in an attempt to reduce ration costs. Although an easy option to improve short-term cash flow, live yeasts can substantially improve feed conversion efficiency and growth rates, helping to reduce overall finishing costs in the longer term by enabling cattle to make better use of all feeds.

“And don’t forget the value of blends, particularly when feed storage is an issue, or a simple feeding system is preferred,” he concludes. “Better value than compounds, custom blends can be formulated to fit any requirements to achieve the desired result.”