Thursday 4 June 2020Hitting – and Smashing – DLWG Targets With Co-products

For any beef operation, finding a reliable route to hitting targets for daily live-weight gains (DLWG) and finishing animals efficiently is critical.

Achieving a well-finished animal with good conformation and the ideal coverage of fat requires four nutritional elements – fibre, energy, protein and starch. A traditional finishing system feeds an ad-lib ration of hay (for fibre), barley (for starch and energy) and a concentrate such as urea or soya (for protein), resulting in DLWGs of around 1.25kg to 1.35kg.

Each of the four elements has a vital role to play, so if results are to be consistent, it’s essential they’re perfectly balanced. While it’s possible to push growth rates by increasing the energy density of the diet, this must be supported by sufficient protein to maximise the use of energy and starch. And where growth is rapid, appropriate minerals and vitamins are required to protect overall health. To do its job fully, the finishing ration must take all of these demands into account.

Even with a perfectly balanced ration, it’s still critical to maximise dry matter intake (DMI) if DLWGs are to be achieved. Making sure the ration is palatable and readily consumed is therefore as vital as getting its nutritional profile right.

In today’s beef market, the specifications defined by the customer – be that a butcher or supermarket – must be met in order to maximise profit. As fatty carcasses are no longer desirable, finding a feed that delivers the kind of finish the customer demands, within the required timeframe, is central to successful finishing.

Using co-product feeds in a finishing operation
For beef finishers working to tight margins, co-product feeds are an efficient choice. They can achieve equivalent – if not better – results when compared with traditional hay + barley + protein mixes. The advantages of co-products include:

  • Ready availability throughout the year
  • Nutritional consistency – potato co-products, for example, are less variable then barley
  • Easy digestibility
  • Palatability

Co-product starch alternatives include potato and bread products. As these are cooked, they deliver readily fermentable and highly digestible starch sources. Proteins come in the form of products such as brewers’ grains, Trafford and Sedagold wheat syrups and distillers’ draff. Not only do these provide high-quality protein, they also boost DMI thanks to their palatability.

One way to make a co-product ration especially efficient for finishing is to boost the oil level from the traditional 3% up to 6% of the total diet. We can do this by adding cooked chips, for example, which increases energy density, making for a highly efficient finishing ration. 

Outcomes and benefits
By adopting a focussed co-product feed regime, it’s possible to quickly see a positive impact on your bottom line. Rather than waiting until 14 months to slaughter bull beef, it can be finished at 11 to 12 months. Store cattle, slowly grown to 24 months on grass or forage, can be finished on co-products to improve conformation and add fat to large frames.

If genetics and management are optimised, backing them up with a consistent ration can see a farm achieving DLWGs of 2kg or more. Even native breeds such as Aberdeen Angus or Herefords – prone to running to fat if finished too hard – can reach 1.5kg a day.  

With DMI playing such a pivotal role in successful finishing, it’s well worth striving to maximise it. Moist co-products, when included in a total mixed ration (TMR), encourage uptake thanks to their pleasant taste and aroma. They also add succulence, making the TMR more palatable, while minimising dust and wasteful sorting.

A happy side effect of feeding a balanced and consistent ration is satisfied animals, which are full up and contented. A quieter herd is easier to manage and wastes less energy.

Cost comparison
Compared to bought-in straight feeds, co-products can be a more cost-effective choice. They’re often better value in terms of the cost per unit of energy and protein. For example:

  • On a like-for-like energy basis, rolled barley (dry matter 86%, metabolisable energy 13.2) at £145 per tonne makes cooked potato chips (dry matter 35%, metabolisable energy 16) worth £71.50 per tonne. However, cooked chips in Leicestershire for example are priced at £61 per tonne. This means the Duynie co-product is selling at only 85% of its relative feed value – making it a great deal for farmers who are in the business of finishing beef.

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