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Maintain Suckler Cow Condition Now To Save Feed Costs Later

25 July 2010

Maintaining suckler cow body condition at grass this autumn could save farmers hundreds of tonnes of precious silage later in the year.

One of the driest springs and early summers for many years has left many beef producers throughout the country low on silage for the winter feeding programme.

“Everyone I speak to says first cut silage yield is down by at least a third with severe concerns that second and third cuts may be down too,” says Michael French, Northern Regional Manager at Keenan Systems.

Suckler cow producers will need to make the most of the available silage by boosting it with straw and other ingredients, such as dried distillers’ grains from bioethanol plants.

For example, every kilo of straw that is fed will replace three to four kilos of silage giving distinct financial gains over the winter housing period. Silage this year will be expensive at around £100 per tonne of dry matter (DM). By adding straw at a cost of £83/t DM there will be saving of 3 pence per animal per day.

For every 100 cattle fed at a rate of just 1kg of straw per ration per day that equates to a saving of £540 pounds over a 180 day winter feeding period. Equally importantly, it means 60t less silage is required.

A spring calving suckler cow that is kept in good condition (Body Condition Score 3 > 4) at grass up to the housing period can be managed more economically over this period. Less energy input is required and she can be maintained by her body reserves. The ideal body condition for a spring suckler cow at calving is 2.5 to 3. This helps to ensure cows calve down without pre and post calving problems such as assisted calving and retained clensings.

“The importance of maintaining the correct BCS during a production cycle is critical at all times. A suckler cow losing just one BCS point equates to approximately 70kg in body weight, and in energy terms that equates to 3t of silage/cow. Bringing cows back to the desired condition score over the winter will take up a lot of silage, and be expensive,” says Seth Wareing, Senior Rumans Nutrition Specialist at Keenan Systems.

“Where forages are limited my advice would be is to ensure calves-at-foot at grass are supplemented with a creep feed. This helps maintain and improve cow’s body condition and also promotes the development of the calf’s rumen in preparation for weaning. With the cow, any energy that is available over-and-above maintenance and production needs will go straight into improving her condition score for the housing period."

A suggested winter ration for spring calving cattle housed at a BCS 3.5 that maximises available silage would be a daily feeding rate of 5kg of straw (wheat or barley) plus 15kg to 20kg of average quality silage. But importantly this ration must be mixed well to deliver a ration consistency to all cattle; cows will seek out the tastier silage first, leaving the straw. If not this mean some cattle could miss out on their full energy requirements and lose significant condition over this period.

July 2010

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