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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Whilst concentrates have escalated to unprecedented levels, they are still a necessity in animal diets’

Prepare for Winter: A Guide for Farmers

In this news article, CAFRE focuses on planning for performance this winter: how farmers can prepare for the winter ahead in light of the rising input costs.

It is important to firstly identify the quality of your silage and then target the appropriate silage to the most suitable stock, Gareth Beacom, beef and sheep adviser.

Silage quality, particularly first cut is extremely variable on farms this year.

With conditions around first cut silage time at the end of May extremely challenging, combined with the excellent grass growth in May, a lot of first cuts are either below the desired d-value due to late cutting or low in dry matter.

Business Development Group (BDG) members have the opportunity to get silage tested via their CAFRE adviser.

Most advisers report that whilst a lot of first-cut silages are not as good as some farmers were hoping for, there are some excellent second and third-cut silages on farms.

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Readers must note that finishing animals are the most expensive animals to feed on suckler farms, and it is with this group that significant savings can be made with high-quality silage.

Table 1 below shows that daily feed costs can fluctuate by 66p/day, which equates to £20/animal/month.

Given the fine margins already in beef finishing currently, this can simply be the difference between making a positive margin or not in a finished animal.

Silage Quality Silage Fed (kg) Concentrate (kg) Daily Feed Cost (£/day)
Good 22 4.5 £2.39
Average 20 5.5 £2.68
Poor 15 7 £3.05


Table 1: Feed requirements for 500kg steer aiming to achieve 1.2KG daily liveweight gain

Assumptions: Silage – £35/t, Concentrate – £360/t

Weighing cattle

More, the regular weighing of cattle during the finishing period to ensure that animals achieve the required daily liveweight gain (DLWG) is paramount.

This is important to aid decisions as to when to finish animals.

With concentrate price increased this year by 33% and still rising and beef price only up 9%, finishers may need to adapt to this by killing animals lighter than they have done previously as they could be putting on weight that they’re not going to see a return on.

Assuming a 650kg steer would be on a finishing diet of 8kg meal and 30kg of silage, this has a daily cost of £3.93.

If they were achieving 1.2kg DLWG, this would equate to a daily carcass gain of approximately 0.7kg.

Then, at a beef price of £4.37, this would give a daily return of £3.06 – lower than the cost of production.

Whilst a higher beef price or higher animal performance would change these figures, it nevertheless remains vital to keep a close eye on the performance of cattle this winter.

Once DLWG starts to tail off, and the animal is slaughter fit, consider slaughtering to avoid escalating costs that are not going to provide a profit.

Feeding calves 

For suckled calves in their first winter, there are several feeding options that farmers can explore.

Firstly, if a farmer fed a silage-only diet, it was argued at a recent meeting that on poor quality silage alone (10% crude protein (CP), no weight gain would be expected on a store calf over the winter.

On average quality silage (12% CP), a moderate weight gain of approximately 45kg over a 6-month winter might be expected.

Both scenarios here, however, risk affecting the overall lifetime performance of the calves.

If animal performance of 0.6kg per day was targeted, then 3kg of meal was required along with the poor-quality silage or 2kg with the average quality silage to achieve this.

The costs of these diets over a 6-month winter can be seen in table 2.

It is important to budge to aid the decision-making of whether to keep or sell store calves this winter.

On average quality silage and 2kg of meal, it would cost £224 to feed a calf for 6 months.

Then, if high-quality silage was available, then this could be done for less than £200.

Table 2 – Cost of feeding store calves
Cost/day Cost for 6 months Potential weight in April
Target weight gain of 0.6kg/day
15kg poor quality silage + 3kg conc £1.53 £275 408kg
15kg average quality silage + 2kg conc £1.25 £224 408kg

Assumptions – 300kg steer on 1st October. Average quality silage – £35/t, poor quality – £30/t. Concentrate cost – £360/t

Key take-home messages

In summary, whilst concentrate levels have escalated to unprecedented levels, they are still a necessity in animal diets during the winter storing period and certainly the finishing period.

However, it has never been more important to have a feeding and finishing plan in place for all classes of stock to ensure that you feed concentrates in a targeted way to maximise their impact and ensure you optimise value for money.

Further reading on That’s Farming:

In a previous news article on That’s Farming, Beacom explained how a well-ventilated building is one of the most essential assets on any suckler farm, which you can read.

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