Maize forage diet proves good for profits and health

Including maize in black-and-white bull finishing diets has helped cut costs and improve herd health for Doug Dear.

Beef producers pouring cash into expensive barley-based diets should take heart from the changes made to finishing rations by South Yorkshire farmer Doug Dear.

Mr Dear has slashed the cost of his feed inputs by more than £100/t of dry matter, increased daily liveweight gain and improved the health of his cattle into the bargain.

He says maize forage has “saved the day”. His only regret is that instead of growing 16ha (40 acres) last year he should have grown three times as much.

“By switching to a TMR diet based on forage maize we’ve reduced the cost of dry matter from £160/t to £57/t,” said Mr Dear.

He farms in partnership with his parents Alan and Elizabeth near Selby and finishes 600 black-and-white bulls a year. Cattle arrive on the farm as 12-week-old weanlings and are sold deadweight through ABP at a target carcass weight of 300kg.

“When barley reached £100/t we began to get concerned, as it started to make a big impact on margins. As it headed towards £160/t we knew we had to find an alternative feed.”

He opted for forage maize to provide the starch equivalent of barley. With growing costs of about £741/ha (£300/acre) and a dry matter yield of 10-12.5t/ha (4-5t/acre), the crop equates to a dry matter cost of £70-£80/t taken out of the clamp.

“We had a list of targets. We needed to reduce the length of finishing time to 14 months, improve weight gains and cut feed costs,” said Mr Dear.

He has been feeding forage maize as the base part of the ration this winter – allowing him to feed it at about 25% inclusion – and says the diet has met all his targets and given him yards of healthier cattle with no acidosis problems. He may feed up to 50% of the ration as maize silage next year now that system has proved itself and the acreage has been increased.

“We’ve used fodder beet and sugar beet and even bread in the ration so far and reckon we’ve now got more control over costs and can use a range of different feeds if we can buy them at the right price.”

Diets are formulated by Keenan Rumans nutritionist Seth Wareing, who said all the targets set my Mr Dear had been reached since the TMR mix based on forage maize had been introduced.

“The TMR diet has reduced finishing time, increased daily weight gain from 1.2kg to 1.4kg and cut feed cost to £132/t, which almost halved the feed cost to 74p/kg of liveweight gain,” said Mr Wareing.

Highlighting the unit’s margin over all feeds of £157 a head, Mr Wareing said more beef finishers could salvage ad-lib barley beef systems by switching to forage diets based on maize.


Maize benefits:

  • Reduced feed costs

  • Increased liveweight gain

  • Stable diet

  • Healthier cattle