Missing early growth potential undermines beef profitability

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Length: 579 words; 3-4 minutes

Beef cattle feeding image

Missing out on even 10% of early growth potential in black and white bulls or continental-cross beef cattle could increase finishing times by 14 days and feed requirements by a minimum of 220kg, claims KW nutritionist Charlotte Ward. Cattle are also harder to finish to market requirements, reducing income and further eroding margins.

“Time to slaughter, quality of finish and total feed cost are three critical factors that have a major impact on beef margins and overall unit profitability,” she states. “Maximising early liveweight gain (LWG), when feed is converted into growth most efficiently (figure 1), is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve all three factors.

“But remember that the aim is for lean (muscle) growth and LWG, so it’s also important to minimise fat deposition during that early growth phase.”

Beef feed requirements graph
Figure 1 – Increase in beef cattle feed requirements per unit of growth with age – Click to enlarge

Boosting early growth

Fast rates of lean tissue growth can only be achieved when the animal’s requirement for  metabolisable protein (MP) is consistently met. That MP supply comes from a combination of rumen microbial protein and rumen-bypass protein, so the key to driving early lean growth is to ensure a good supply of both by feeding higher quality protein during the first five months of growth.

“…improved MP supply is critical until animals are fully weaned…”

“Increasing ration rumen-bypass protein levels not only increases overall MP levels, but also acts as an insurance to maintain MP supply whenever rumen fermentation is compromised,” Ms Ward explains.  “This often happens following the stress of weaning, changes in social hierarchy or excess heat in the summer, for example, so the improved MP supply is critical until animals are fully weaned, growing well and settled into new groups.”

UK-produced NovaPro is a highly cost-effective source or rumen-bypass protein.

In contrast, the traditional approach to grower ration formulation is to focus on low-cost protein sources such as urea to top up crude protein (CP) levels to the typical 15-17% target. Boosting the supply of rumen-bypass protein – otherwise known as digestible undegraded protein (DUP) – without increasing overall CP levels requires the focus to shift to higher quality protein feeds such as rapeseed meal or soyabean meal, and in some instances dedicated DUP supplements like Soypass rumen-protected soyabean meal and NovaPro heat-treated rapeseed expeller.

“Feeds like maize distillers’ feed are also high in energy (13.4MJ ME/kg DM) and contain digestible fibre rather than starch to help stabilise the rumen, so are a great starting point when looking to improve protein quality in grower rations,” she continues.

“The aim is to drive lean growth until switching to a finisher ration that contains 2-5% less CP plus up to 0.5-1.0MJ ME/kg DM extra energy and in excess of 30% starch to support quick finishing by boosting fat deposition.”

Improved farm income

According to Ms Ward, it’s an approach that is particularly well suited to black and white bulls and late maturing continental cattle, such as Charlolais, Limousin and Simmental. These cattle tend to continue pushing nutrients into growth rather than laying down fat unless early growth is maximised.

“If most of the lean growth can be achieved early on, cattle are more likely to partition energy towards fat cover, enabling target slaughter weights and confirmation to be more easily – and quickly – achieved,” Ms Ward concludes. “The net result is a higher average carcase value, quicker finishing and more animals finished per year, all of which increases farm income.

“With the extra feed costs more than outweighed by improvements in feed conversion efficiency, that extra income means both better margins per head and greater overall unit profitability.”

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