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Supplement Beef Cattle & Lambs to Finish Well Before Housing

supplementing beef cattle and lambs to finish well before housing

Lachie Maclachlan makes the case for supplementing beef cattle and lambs to finish well before housing.

Lachie Maclachlan, Beef and Sheep Specialist


Our cheapest feed by a long way is grazed grass, especially if that grass is part of a good reseeding policy. This then provides grass consistently of better quality therefore clearly provides more daily liveweight gain whether it is to lambs or beef cattle. I was at an open day on a farm in south Devon in mid-March, when an independent consultant from Ireland stated that grass is at its ideal length for grazing when you put your hand horizontally on the ground and the grass is to the top of your index finger. If you put your fingertips on the ground and the grass is above your wrist then it would be better to conserve it rather than graze as the optimum potential for good liveweight gain has gone. This might seem a little bit of an old fashioned way and to some, maybe too simplistic a way of measuring grass growth, but it is still a very good guideline to determine its quality.


With the beef price rising and lamb price under pressure, the potential to earn a greater margin from quality grazing and adopting a rotational grazing policy is a must to realise the financial potential. Financially, time is the essence of it all. If the grass quality is dropping, this is the time to look at feeding a supplement to maintain daily liveweight gain and get the lambs or cattle away as fast as possible to benefit from finishing at grass and not having to house stock. We don’t want to be caught, like most of us have been in the past, with store lambs that have needed twice as much feed to finish them due to poor weather conditions, or a shortage of grass, this extra cost can be avoided by finishing these lambs sooner rather than later.


I know I keep on about the benefits of feeding cattle or lambs at grass, but it really is a financial no brainer! Why would we not want to feed at grass whether it is suckled calves, stores or finishing cattle, when it’s at least twice as expensive to feed indoors due to housing, straw and other costs? As a crude example: if it costs £1.00 per day to feed a 350kg steer  at grass and the return is £2.00 per kg is this not a good return on your investment? I would also challenge that £2.00 per kg is a modest return for most good quality cattle today, but it is only an example, everybody has different quality cattle. It does seem as if the beef price will stay strong into the autumn, therefore finishing sooner rather than later makes good financial sense.


The tables here have been taken from SAC Consulting’s June Beef and Sheep news and shows what the animal needs in dry matter intake to achieve a kg per day at grass. It also takes account of wastage which is something I don’t hear many farmers account for.



The standard calculation for assessing the total grazing days in a paddock is based on an assumed daily intake of grass dry matter of 2% of the animal’s liveweight. On top of this, an additional allowance is added to take account of wastage, normally around an extra 0.5kg per head per day. The figures with no allowance for wastage are shown in the table below. To determine how accurate this 2% figure is, we calculated the daily dry matter intake needed to maintain 1.0kg gain per day based on a ration of silage and barley.


Source Details

Lachie Maclachlan, Beef and Sheep Specialist.

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