17 November 2020


Improving silage quality by just 1.5ME can reduce beef finishing costs by £38/head.

At Pantyderi farm, a Farming Connect demonstration site near Boncath, Pembrokeshire, Wyn and Eurig Jones are aiming to increase efficiency in the 300 beef cattle they finish annually.

To reduce the cost of bought-in feed they are making better quality silage – the crop they harvested in May 2020 had 15.5% crude protein compared to 10.5% the previous year.

Through their work with Farming Connect, the Jones’ have been working with beef nutritionist Hefin Richards, of Rumenation Nutrition Consultancy, to formulate rations and to match the correct feed to different classes of stock.

During a recent Farming Connect webinar, Mr Richards said one of the easiest gains to be made in reducing feed costs is to make better quality silage.

A ration incorporating 9.5ME grass silage fed with rolled barley and wheat distillers grains with an intake of 6.36kgDM/head/day will cost £1.04/head compared to £0.85 at 11ME since the proportion of other feeds in the ration can be reduced.

Even allowing for an additional £3/tonne for the cost of making younger silage, this results in a cost saving of £0.19/head/day which, over 200 days, is worth £38/head.

A route to improving silage quality is to reseed some fields and to clamp the silage from those leys in a part of the clamp where it is easily accessible and can be fed to the right animals. 

At Pantyderi, if all the silage made was at 15.5% protein, it is unlikely that any protein concentrate blend would be needed in the ration, said Mr Richards.

“Cut younger and more productive leys for growing cattle, but there is a place for bulky, lower energy silage – this will keep dry suckler cows ticking over in the winter.’’

At Pantyderi, silage leys are being reseeded on an ongoing basis, with clover introduced to increase silage protein levels. 

Mr Richards advised finishers to target the optimum not maximum weight for slaughter as efficiency can be lost by taking animals beyond that point.

“When cattle are plateauing it is time to move them on,’’ says Mr Richards.

That point can be established by regularly weighing cattle.

As soon as an animal starts to lay down fat it costs more to grow.

“For cattle at the upper level of the fat class there is huge potential to sell them sooner bearing in mind how much feed it will take to put on those extra few kilogrammes of weight,’’ says Mr Richards.

Increasing the density of the diet is an option - if higher daily gains can be achieved, the margin over the finishing diet can be increased.

For instance, if daily liveweight gain (DLWG) can be increased to 1.8kg from a finisher feed cost of £2.30/head/day, the margin on a finisher diet will be £0.94 compared to -£0.20 on a finisher diet costing £2/head/day if a DLWG of just 1kg is achieved.

Mr Richards warned that it can be false economy to feed home-grown barley to a younger growing animal when feeding with a low protein forage.

“Just because you have it on the farm it doesn’t mean you should feed it as you will end up with fat, small, dumpy animals that don’t leave a good margin, it is better to keep the barley for the finishing animals.’’

If silage is wet or fibrous, a yeast or rumen buffer can be a better investment than increasing concentrate intakes.

Grouping cattle according to their feed requirements will aid feed efficiency. 

Be realistic about grade potential too. “Focus on efficiency of the majority, not the few that will make it into the top grades,’’ Mr Richards recommended.

More cattle are slaughtered at 29 months than at any other age but Mr Richards said most of these, with better management and nutrition, could easily be slaughtered much younger.

“There is a real win here, to reduce feed, bedding, management and labour costs,’’ he said.

At an average DLWG of 0.83kg/day from 40-650kg, animals can finish at 24 months but by increasing DLWG to 1kg/day finishing can be achieved at 20 months and, at 1.23kg/day, at 16 months.

By focusing on genetics, this can be done without feeding more concentrates.

Even beef calves from dairy cows sired by designated AI sires with superior growth genetics can achieve high performance. 

Selling cattle early reduces housing and bedding requirements, and at a lower stocking density housing will be a healthier environment for cattle.

Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

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