Rumen performance and balanced, costed rations are key to success

As feed markets are once again experiencing extreme highs and considerable volatility, beef producers are being urged to focus closely on optimising feeding strategies to help boost margins.

According to KW nutritionist Richard Wynn, rumen performance is the key, with rations that are properly balanced, and properly costed, critical to success.

“Take a close look at both current feeding practices and animal performance, and don’t be afraid to do things differently if either is underperforming,” he recommends.

“Review feeds on the basis of cost for every unit of energy or protein rather than cost per tonne, look at the performance of the ration and cost per kg of liveweight gain (LWG), and be prepared to change systems to make the most of the best value feeds currently available.”

Alternative feeds

High-quality alternative feeds are often the most cost-effective choice, although some units might require set-up changes to make the most of the opportunities they offer. But Dr Wynn explains this doesn’t have to be complicated.

“You don’t necessarily need a mixer wagon to make good use of alternative feeds. Using a simple concrete pad to store moist feeds – or ready-to-feed moist mixes created with a loader bucket during clamping – can be easily achieved on most farms.”

And switching from hopper-type feeders to open troughs allows much greater flexibility in the type of feeds used.

“Liquid feeds are good value sources of energy at the moment, so consider installing a storage tank, and have the option to use molasses or distillery syrups whenever they’re good value,” he adds.

“Just treat any changes as a long-term investment to widen your feeding options, and create the opportunity to use the best value feeds whatever the market is doing.”

Liquid feeds also have an important role to play in improving beef ration quality. Any producer feeding a dry mix should include at least 4-5% molasses, to suppress dust, prevent separation of ration ingredients, improve palatability and help drive intakes.

Forage provision

Other basics include the provision of adequate “forage”, either using silage as the ration base or including a minimum of 1kg a head a day of straw. But Dr Wynn warns to be careful to cost silages accurately as they’re not always the most cost-effective option – the slower growth on silage-based rations can often outweigh the benefits.

“Moist feeds like brewers’ grains and Trafford Gold are a great alternative on which to base beef rations, being both good value and high in digestible fibre,” Dr Wynn continues.

“This helps buffer the rumen against acidosis, balancing any starch added to lift energy levels.

“Cereals are currently expensive, so consider other sources of starch, such as confectionery blends, or processed bread and processed potato co-products if available. For digestible fibre, sugar beet feed is a better buy than soya hulls at the moment, and more palatable.”

Trials show benefits

In a trial carried out by Harper Adams University College, dairy-bred bulls fed a moist feed-based ration finished at significantly heavier slaughter weights (572kg v 550kg), and with a 9p/kg LWG lower feed cost, than those on a traditional rolled barley-based finishing ration.

The net impact was a £39 a head increase in margin over feed at the time (£580 v £541), equivalent to about £50 a head at current feed prices, calculates Dr Wynn.

There was also a 39% reduction in liver damage (likely due to acidosis being reduced by higher digestible fibre levels) and a numeric improvement in daily liveweight gain (+7.5%) – faster finishing means more animals finished each year, and more profit.

“And a similar open-minded approach can be applied to protein requirements,” adds Dr Wynn. “Buy a blend rather than straights, allowing the blender to select from the best value protein feeds at any one time, or consider using a high protein liquid feed as a more cost-effective alternative to traditional protein meals.”

Finally, Dr Wynn recommends the use of live yeasts to improve rumen fermentation efficiency, further protect against acidosis and boost performance. At about 3p a head a day, the cost represents just 2% of a typical daily feed cost, yet trials have shown the potential to improve feed conversion efficiency by 4.5% and liveweight gain by up to 8%.

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