As with all cattle, maximising the production of meat, milk or both whether for beef, dairy or dairy-beef production the interplay between breed/climate/season/purpose and farm policy all impact on the final production outcome.
Undoubtedly feeding green feed fodder to cattle will improve their meat and milk performance notwithstanding that it forms only a small portion of an animal’s diet. That said, humans take a small multi-vitamin pill and benefit from the release of concentrated vitamins and minerals; not a dissimilar effect when cattle are fed fodder.
To establish a guideline for cattle, we have been working with Hereford/Angus cross; Hereford/Friesian cross beef; Friesian/Friesian steers and Simmental/Angus steers. With each of these combinations we have been assessing a maintenance diet; a breeding diet and a finishing diet to arrive at the following recommendations for each of the foregoing, with the exception of the Simmental/Angus combination (see below) based on an assessed live-weight of 500-550kg:
- Maintenance: Green feed fodder fed at 2% of body weight supported by ad-lib pasture grass, hay or straw for roughage. Where hay is the roughage source the hay need only be a medium quality rye grass or cocksfoot-dominant hay and can be fed at rates around 5-7kg per animal. Straw can be fed at 7-10kg per animal. High clover hays are not essential. If fed as part of a controlled diet (such as penned stock or on a feedlot) where a mixer wagon is used to combine the diet into trough feed or a behind-the-wire ration, we suggest supplementation with molasses at 500ml per head.
- Breeding: Due to higher biological demand by the cow, both in terms of foetal development and subsequent lactation, we recommend increasing the green feed fodder to 3% of live-weight. As with the maintenance recommendation above, roughage is essential whether from pasture grass, hay or straw to make up the balance of the diet. Housed, controlled feed or movement limited stock may also benefit from the addition of molasses as the rate of 500ml per animal added to the feed mix.
- Finishing: Feeding green feed fodder at the rate of 3.5% to 5% of live-weight supported by pasture grass, hay or straw will put weight on cattle. Our own trials have show increases in weight gains of 2kg per day, with cattle being full of energy, having glossy coats and maintaining excellent resistance to the usual range of drench treatable worms and pests. By way of a guide, for a 550 kg steer receiving pasture roughage supplemented by 20kg of fodder a day, we target a gain weight at 1.8 to 2.0kg a day in typical North Island Autumn conditions. On a number of occasions we have exceed this weight gain.
For the heavier breeds of cattle, such as the European Simmental, Charolais and cross breeds of the Europeans, raised either as European pure bred or cross bred with non European breeds (such as Angus or Hereford cows) we recommend that the green feed fodder be fed at 5.0% to 8.0% of live weight for maintenance through to finishing. In a pure finishing, feed lot situation this can be increased to 10% of body weight with a corresponding increase in muscle mass towards 2.8kg per day, however, the feed input must be controlled to ensure that the animals digestive system is taking long enough to extract the nutrient value from the fodder. That assurance is provided by the addition of roughage. In addition, where we have accelerated the feed percentage, we have been splitting the feeding into two feeds a day rather than just one feed feeding.
It is worth noting that in Australia, specialist butchery lines are now emerging with cattle fed/finished on fodder fetching a premium due to the marbling of the meat, depth of colour and richer flavour of the fodder fed beef. This has led to a brand being established in Australia to specifically promote the advantages of fodder fed beef to consumers.