Now that Storm Emma has arrived, the business feeding stock during cold weather is one which must be taken seriously. In order to maximise profits, animals should gain weight on grass/silage as far as possible but this is not always the case.
In Ireland the main diet for livestock is grass-based. Now that bales and silage pits are open it is essential to know exactly what you are feeding to your livestock for health and maximum weight gain benefit. To aid in this, a simple test can be carried out to determine the dry matter digestibility % (DMD).
It is also important to know the correct feed conversion rates of everything you give to you animals. Today, the winter period is now as crucial a time for weight gain as the summer grazing period. Studies undertaken by Teagasc show that for a 600kg steer, for optimum growth on ad lib silage of 75% DMD, 4kg/day of meal is required per day.
A general rule with good quality silage is 0.75kg of meal per 100kg of live-weight. For every 5% less in DMD 1.5 kg of extra meal per head is required. Higher performing animals may require more such as continental cross steers. Giving more meal than is required is a false economy as the animal will only lay down fat and not muscle as well as costing more in unnecessary meal costs.
Conclusions from Teagasc show that feeding silage with an optimum quality of 75% DMD can result in a weight gain on average of 0.83kg, while feeding silage with a DMD of 60% will result in a live weight gain of less than half of that. For weight gains above this, the diet must include meal.
During colder weather, it is vital that an animal's energy levels remain high. This ensures they can retain their body temperature at normal levels and without the adequate energy, pneumonia is a real danger.
There are many alternative and popular options out there, such as barley, wheat and sugar beet, but there are cheaper ones also. Sugar beet is a very nutritious, palatable and energy-rich ration, though it is important to be careful with portion sizes.
Wheat is another option and is known to be a good source of vital energy. There are a range of benefits from feeding wheat to cattle. It is not only an excellent source of energy, but also carbohydrates. This energy is equal, to energy received from corn feed, which is also an excellent option. Only 30% of a cow's ration should be wheat for best results.
There are other cheaper options available also, covered by ThatsFarming in recent months, such as Turnips and spuds. Turnips are known to have a high protein content, often up to 20% DM in some cases. Protein in the crop can vary greatly from 12% up to as much as 20%. Not only does Turnips contain a good protein source, but they also contain a valuable energy source. Most turnips contain Metabolic energy levels from 12 to 13 Mj/kg DM. As well as that, the crop generally has a DM percentage of between 9 and 11%.
Turnips should be introduced at a slow pace. In the first five days. A maximum of 2kgs should be given per cow, per day. From there this can be gradually increased to 5kgs per cow per day.
There is also the option of spuds. Feeding potatoes to cattle is the equivalent of feeding grains such as barley, as they have an equal feeding value. Not only this, but they are crammed full of Vitamin A and are an excellent energy source. They are though, are low in protein and are best served to cattle, with a protein supplement. One other notable benefit is the savings in feed costs. One can buy potatoes cheaply these days and cull or waste spuds can even purchased, if you know the right person. We all know how expensive feed can be these days and every penny counts.
Citrus pulp is another good alternative. It provides a high source of energy for livestock and is also extremely good for their digestive systems. It contains a high sugar content and a highly digestible fibre content. It makes an excellent source of protein when combined with cereals and other protein sources. It also allows for increased energy intakes, without risk of acidosis.
Tips for feeding concentrates to maximise cattle weight gain:
1. Select a meal based on animal i.e. Growing animal or finishing animal (high protein vs high energy).
2. Introduce the selected meal over a 3 week period.
3. Ensure that cattle have access at all times to clean water.
4. Feed meal twice a day instead of giving it all in one go.