10 steps to reach finishing weight faster
Improving the profitability and margins on beef farms has always been a challenge. While this year — largely due to COVID-19 restrictions — we had the additional issue of dealing with increased prices for different raw materials, such as soya bean meal. This had increased the cost of the daily finishing ration, which, in most cases, will lead to an overall increase in the cost of production. For those finishing cattle indoors this winter, the challenge — as ever — is to maximise performance, finish cattle faster and spend fewer days on-farm with a reduced feed bill. To assist with this challenge, Alltech and its technical team have developed a unique beef programme that can help ensure your cattle reach target finishing weights faster.
The key points are summarised in our beef programme 10-point checklist below.
Defined finishing programme
Know your finishing system, the farm’s capabilities and what has worked well in the past. Purchase cattle that fit in with your system and the feeds purchased and available. We are all aware of the end specifications required by processors; achieving the best beef price requires hitting these specifications.
Arrival period procedure
The first three to four weeks of an animal’s time on your farm are of the utmost importance. Mixing with new cattle and dealing with changing surroundings and a new diet are all challenges. Minimising these challenges and reducing the stress they put on your animals can help ensure they perform to their highest level. Separate housing and a specific arrival diet will lead to the best results.
Correct finishing period
Feeding for the shortest period possible to achieve the correct finish will ensure optimum profitability. It costs over four times as much to put on one kilogram of fat as it does to put on one kilogram of lean beef. Those finishing traditional breeds, such as Angus and Hereford, should be targeting 70 days or less to finish. Continental breeds can be fed for longer periods, as they do not lay down fat as fast. However, bear in mind: the longer animals spend on a finishing diet, the more their performance starts to decline. As such, the target finishing period should be 80–100 days for heifers and steers and 120–140 days for bulls, depending on their age and weight.
Clean and accessible water
Water is one of the most important ingredients in any beef finishing programme. If water intakes are restricted due to dirty drinkers, the animal’s intake of concentrate and forage also declines. Simply put, if animals do not eat enough, their energy intakes are reduced, and their performance suffers. Clean the drinkers regularly and ensure they are properly accessible to animals in the pen.
Ensure that animals are not overstocked and, for those using traditional feeding practices, that all animals can feed at once. This helps reduce competition within the group and gorging on concentrate, ensuring that every animal has an equal opportunity to perform at maximum levels. Anyone working with various bedding options should know that wet, dirty bedding limits animal performance. It will be a difficult year in this respect, with the higher price of bedding material, like straw. But, other options, including peat, are available.
Maximising rumen performance
Increasing animal performance refers to making the rumen, or stomach, more efficient at converting or utilising the diet into weight gain. From a nutritional perspective, rumen health and maximising performance is the single biggest challenge on-farm. Confronting this challenge, as well as the conversion of feed into weight gain, necessitates providing optimum levels of forage at the correct chop length. Incorporating technologies like Optigen® has been shown to improve feed utilisation, thus making more energy available from forage and increasing daily liveweight gain by 92 grams per day during the finishing period (Table 1).
Table 1: The effect of including Optigen in the finishing period of beef animals.
In beef finishing, consistency is key. Ensuring that animals cannot select between ingredients in their diet will also guarantee that a more consistent level of performance is achieved within the group. Additionally, providing animals with the same diet every day will protect against upsets to rumen health. The inclusion of Optigen also eliminates variation and provides a consistent supply of protein, thus reducing the risk of under or overfeeding protein due to other variables with plant protein sources.
Balanced nutrition plan
Humans are not so different from animals in that, the more we eat, the more weight we are likely to gain, especially if energy-dense feeds are included in our diets. With finishing cattle, a balance must be struck that ensures a high level of intake over a sustained period. To do this, work with your nutritionist to incorporate the maximum amount of energy into your animals’ diet, balanced with sufficient protein, fibre and minerals. One such way of increasing energy within the diet is by replacing plant-based protein with Optigen. This ultimately creates more space in the rumen for high-energy ingredients. Several trials carried out throughout Europe show that including Optigen in this way can display satisfying results, such as:
- Higher daily liveweight gain.
- Better feed conversion ratio.
- An extra €21.40 per animal (offering a 4:1 return on investment)
Animal health plan
The best animals can be fed the best nutrition programme, but if the animals are compromised with health challenges, targets still will not be met. As such, before any animals are purchased or moved indoors, a clear plan to deal with issues such as fluke, worms, lice (internal and external parasites) and respiratory disease, should be put in place.
An issue that has been at the forefront recently is the effect moulds and toxins have on animal health and performance. We now know more about moulds and toxins and the effects they can have on beef cattle, including such symptoms as loose manure, poor performance, immunity issues, swollen legs and higher incidence of lameness — all of which could seriously impact profitability. Excluding mouldy feeds from the diet is a must. However, toxins can be present, even when mould is not visible. If you suspect toxins may be causing an issue on your farm, talk with your feed advisor, as they may be able to advise on labs that can run tests for toxins and mycotoxin binders, which reduce the effects of mycotoxins in the animal.
These are the 10 key focus areas to ensure that your cattle meet a faster finish. Our team of technical representatives, based throughout Ireland, is available to discuss each of these areas with you further. Alltech solutions are proven to help beef cattle achieve a higher health status and optimise feed use, resulting in increased and efficient weight gain.