Feeding Cattle this winter

It has been a good autumn for grass growth but with deteriorating weather conditions cattle will soon have to be housed. At this stage the quantity and the quality of the silage that you have in your yard can’t be changed but you can make plans with regard to what you need to feed in addition to your silage if the silage feed value is poor or if you haven’t enough to get you through the winter. The best way to get a handle on what you are working with is to get a silage sample tested. A good representative sample will allow you to know what you have and what you may need to feed with the silage to achieve target growth rates. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

If cattle are still out grazing introduce some concentrates before housing to make the transition to a silage diet stress free. Feeding concentrates will help maintain target growth over the autumn and reduce the stress of weaning and or housing. Feeding 1 kg per head per day is a good start. Weanlings should be on 2kg per day for at least 10 days before housing and or weaning.

Feeding Weanlings

It is important that cattle continue to grow during the winter housing period. You are trying to exploit compensatory growth at grass during the following grazing season in weanlings and store cattle. The amount of concentrate that will need to be fed will depend very much on silage quality. Where silage quality is good (+ 68 DMD%) with a good protein level, 1-2kg concentrates will be adequate for achieving moderate growth rates of 0.5-0.7kg per day over the winter. Poor quality silage (less than 68% DMD ) is significantly less digestible which leads to a need for a higher level of concentrate feeding (over 3kg) to achieve the same target liveweight gains.

An average daily gain of 0.6kg/day during the first winter should be the target. Higher weight gains and higher supplementation rates can be achieved if animals are being sold out of the shed at the end of the first winter instead of going back to grass. If during their first winter weanlings are slow growing (less than 0.25kg/day) they will not be able to compensate sufficiently at pasture the following spring. On the other hand weanlings that have been over fed with concentrates will lose much of the winter weight gain in the first few weeks at pasture.

Concentrates should be front-loaded (i.e. feed more concentrates at the beginning of the winter than at the end of the winter). The extra meal at the beginning of the winter allows the animals to adjust from a diet of  grazed grass to silage indoors. The extra concentrate is fed to make the changeover in diet as easy as possible. Continental steers need 2.0 kg per day on 68 DMD silage or 300 kg meals over a 150-day winter. This could be fed as 2.5 kg for the first 100 days and 1.0 kg for the last 50 days.

Feeding Store Cattle

The response to supplementation for stores is lower than for weanlings and subsequent compensatory growth at pasture is generally greater. A target to aim for is a daily live weight gain of 0.5 kg/day for heifers and 0.7 kg/day for steers. The ideal level of concentrate supplementation for store cattle is between zero – 2.0 kg per day, depending on silage quality. For very good quality silage (72 DMD or greater) no concentrate is required. For moderate to poor quality silage 2 kg of concentrate per day would be required.

Feeding Finishing Cattle

It is not possible to achieve the growth rates needed to finish beef cattle indoors on silage alone and so concentrate supplementation is required. However, the better the quality of silage offered; the less concentrates required to finish animals. For example, concentrate supplementation rates for finishing steers to achieve ~1.0 kg live weight/day with grass silage varying in DMD can range from 7.0-8.0 kg for silage of 65 DMD to 4.0-5.0 kg for silage of 75 DMD. This highlights the importance of having good silage quality for finishing cattle.

Buying Concentrate Feed – What to look out for 


Energy is the most limiting nutrient in beef diets as a result always check the energy content of the concentrate. The net energy content of forages and concentrates are expressed in UFL for weanlings, cows, stores and in UFV for finishing cattle. For high levels of performance purchased concentrates should be 0.94 UFL/kg as fed for suckler cows and weanlings and a UFV of 0.92 UFV/kg as fed for finishing cattle.


Protein requirements will vary with type of animal being fed (bulls, steers or heifers), stage of life (weanling, store, finishing) and the forage being offered (hay, silage or straw). Always balance the protein content of the concentrate with the protein content of the forage. You will only know this by getting a silage sample tested.

Rhyno Mills for all your Beef feed needs this winter

We have a wide range of high energy beef feeds available in coarse or cubes, bulk, bags and mini-bulk to suit all your requirements. Our range of beef feeds have been formulated to optimise development and growth as efficiently as possible.

For more information on our range of beef feeds this winter call Rhyno Mills or your local sales representative.