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Maximising performance from beef finishing

At this time of year thoughts turn to bringing cattle in on to finishing diets and, while excellent management of finishing cattle cannot guarantee a profit, it is important to focus on nutrition, housing and health to maximise returns.

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Kevin Doyle, GB technical sales manager with Phileo Lesaffre Animal Care, says: “What we are looking for is the highest liveweight gain from the least amount of feed while meeting target weight and carcase specifications.”


One of the difficulties associated with finishing rations is a challenge to rumen function, most often seen as sub-acute rumen acidosis (SARA) or even clinical acidosis.


“Sub-acute acidosis is not always obvious but can have serious consequences,” says Mr Doyle.


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Lower weight gain

“It reduces fibre digestion and feed intake, reducing energy output from the rumen, which results in lower weight gain. It can also cause damage to the rumen papillae leading to poorer feed utilisation and ‘thrive’, which can be very difficult to reverse.”


A particular pinch point for SARA problems is the transition from grazing or high forage diets to a finishing diet high in starch and sugars, as this requires a change in the microbe population in the rumen from predominantly fibre digesters to mainly starch digesters, which does not happen overnight. A further pressure point comes when animals hit peak dry matter intake, typically around two months prior to slaughter.


“Many people see cattle stop gaining weight or even going backwards and this is clearly undesirable from a financial point of view. But there are simple protocols you can follow which will help prevent this occurring.”

Key protocols

  1. Make diet changes over three weeks, as it takes this long for the rumen microbes to adapt. Step up concentrates every three days until you have reached the desired maximum feeding level
  2. Split feeds between morning and evening to avoid slug feeding, which increases the risk of SARA
  3. Ensure cattle do not run out of feed, as this can lead to gorging, increasing the risk of rumen upset
  4. Ensure a clean palatable supply of water – finishing cattle can require as much as 80 litres of water/head/day
  5. Ensure a supply of roughage (ideally wheat straw chopped to 5-10cm or 2-4in) to encourage rumination
  6. Ensure adequate feed space to allow access for all cattle at all times
  7. Keep the finishing ration consistent and, if you have to make changes, implement them gradually over a three-week period to allow rumen microbes to adapt
  8. Clean out rejected feed as often as possible and at least three times a week to maximise intakes
  9. Ensure adequate ventilation, lying space and clean, dry bedding – cattle will not perform if they do not have enough space or are uncomfortable
  10. Monitor and address cattle health issues – particularly respiratory disease, parasites and lameness – all of which will impact performance and feed efficiency - As well as following feed management protocols, research has shown adding a live yeast supplement to the finishing ration can help rumen microbes to adapt to diet changes and stabilise rumen pH, thereby improving feed utilisation, daily liveweight gain and carcass classification

Common signs rumen function might be compromised


· Loose or variable dung


· Soft, grey, foamy dung


· Gas bubbles in dung


· Reduced intakes and weight gain


· Excess grains and fibre in dung


· Poor rumination/cudding rates


· Abdominal kicking


· Rapid breathing


· Lethargy


· Tail swishing in the absence of flies

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