Planning for Performance this winter

Date published: 03 November 2022

As part of the Planning for Performance events held in CAFRE’s Greenmount and Enniskillen campuses recently, Beef and Sheep advisers Gareth Beacom and Dominic Mason highlighted how farmers can best prepare their businesses for the winter ahead in light of the rising cost of inputs facing farms this winter.

Gareth Beacom, CAFRE Beef and Sheep Adviser, Enniskillen.

Silage testing and knowing the quality of your silage was one of the key messages of the night. Beacom stated: “Silage quality, particularly first cut is extremely variable on farms this year. With conditions around first cut silage time at the end of May extremely challenging, combined with the excellent grass growth in May, a lot of first cuts are either below the desired d-value due to late cutting or low in dry matter.”

Business Development Group (BDG) members have the opportunity to get silage tested via their CAFRE Adviser with most advisers reporting that whilst a lot of first cut silages aren’t as good as some farmers were hoping for, there are some excellent 2nd and 3rd cut silages on farms. Hence the importance of firstly identifying the quality of your silage and then targeting the appropriate silage to the most suitable stock.

Highlighting this, Beacom stated that finishing animals are the most expensive animals to feed on suckler farms and it is with this group that significant savings can be made with high quality silage. Table 1 shows that daily feed costs can fluctuate by 66p per day which equates to £20 per animal per month. “Given the fine margins already in beef finishing at the minute this can simply be the difference between making a positive margin or not in a finished animal.”

Silage Quality

Silage Fed (kg)

Concentrate (kg)

Daily Feed Cost (£/day)













Table 1: Feed requirements for 500kg steer aiming to achieve 1.2KG daily liveweight gain

Assumptions: Silage - £35/t, Concentrate - £360/t

The importance of regularly weighing cattle during the finishing period was emphasised to ensure that animals achieve the required daily liveweight gain (DLWG) and also to help aid decisions as to when to finish animals. Beacom added “With concentrate price increased this year by 33% and still rising and beef price only up 9%, finishers may need to adapt to this by killing animals lighter than they have done previously as they could be putting on weight that they’re not going to see a return on.” Assuming a 650kg steer would be on a finishing diet of 8kg meal and 30kg of silage this has a daily cost of £3.93. If they were achieving 1.2kg DLWG this would equate to a daily carcass gain of approximately 0.7kg; at a beef price of £4.37 this would give a daily return of £3.06 - lower than the cost of production. Whilst a higher beef price or higher animal performance would change these figures it nevertheless remains vital to keep a close eye on the performance of cattle this winter. Once DLWG starts to tail off and the animal is slaughter fit then finishing should be considered to avoid escalating costs that aren’t going to provide a profit.

For suckled calves in their first winter several feeding options were discussed on the night. Firstly, if a silage only diet was fed it was argued that on poor quality silage alone (10% crude protein (CP)) no weight gain would be expected on a store calf over the winter. On average quality silage (12% CP) a moderate weight of gain of approximately 45kg over a 6-month winter might be expected. Both scenarios here, however, risk affecting the overall lifetime performance of the calves.

If animal performance of 0.6kg per day was targeted, then Beacom stated that 3kg of meal was required along with the poor-quality silage or 2kg with the average quality silage to achieve this.

The costs of these diets over a 6-month winter can be seen in table 2. The benefits of budgeting were highlighted to aid the decision making of whether to keep or sell store calves this winter. Gareth points out that on average quality silage and 2kg of meal it would cost £224 to feed a calf for 6 months and if high quality silage was available then this could be done for less than £200.

Table 2 – Cost of feeding store calves




Cost for 6 months

Potential weight in April

Target weight gain of 0.6kg/day

15kg poor quality silage + 3kg conc




15kg average quality silage + 2kg conc




Assumptions – 300kg steer on 1st October

Average quality silage - £35/t, poor quality - £30/t

Concentrate cost - £360/t

Lamb producers face a similar struggle to that of beef finishers at present with concentrate cost also significantly increased but lambs trading at a very similar level to this time last year.

With grass levels and stocking rates on sheep farms variable, finishing systems will vary from farm-to-farm. Whilst grass is undoubtably the cheapest way to finish lambs, meal feeding should also be considered. Gareth stated grass availability and inadequate fleshing levels on lambs as 2 reasons lamb producers should be thinking about introducing meal at grass this Autumn. Reports from lamb finishers this year point to low levels of flesh on lambs in turn leading to poor kill outs.

Beacom pointed out results from a Teagasc study in 2012 where introducing 0.5kg meal to lambs at grass in October had the potential to increase DLWG from 100 grams a day (on grass alone) to 225 grams per day. Whilst this increases the cost of production it will also increase flesh covers, which in turn will increase kill out percentages and minimise the risk of penalties for lambs falling out of spec. More importantly it was highlighted that this would decrease the days to slaughter quite rapidly and hence increase the chances of getting lambs finished off grass and avoid the need for intensive indoor finishing if grass ran out.

Gareth highlights that with an assumed feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 8-1 for intensively fed lambs it would cost in the region of £3.04 (assuming a concentrate price of £380/tonne) to put on 1kg of liveweight. If a 48% kill out was achieved, from the intensively fed lambs, this would generate 0.48kg carcass at a value of £2.45 (at a base price of £5.10). Whilst intensive feeding may still be required for tail end lambs, or lambs of a poor store value, it should be avoided where possible. Gareth also states that the timely introduction of meal at grass for finishers who’s grass availability is getting scarce as one option to minimise the number of lambs requiring intensive finishing.

In summary, whilst concentrate levels have escalated to unprecedented levels, they are still a necessity in animal diets during the winter storing period and certainly the finishing period. However, it has never been more important to have a feeding and finishing plan in place for all classes of stock to ensure that concentrates are fed in a targeted way to maximise their impact and ensure value for money is optimised.  

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