Feeding maize to beef cattle

Maize silage and crimped maize grain are used throughout the UK to efficiently feed beef cattle. Maize isn’t a suitable crop for growing in all parts of England as it is dependent on farm location, soil type, altitude and field aspect for good results. These variables must be analysed and considered carefully before deciding whether or not to grow the crop.

Good quality maize has the requisite starch, energy and intake characteristics to offer the opportunity to maximise performance and improve margins when fed to beef cattle. For optimum dietary utilisation, maize should be processed by rolling, cracking or coarsely grinding prior to feeding. When maize is ensiled, this process is usually achieved by employing ‘corn crackers’ as it is chopped. However, since maize has a relatively low protein content it needs supplementing with a protein source. Supplements that supply good levels of effective rumen degradable protein (ERDP) are necessary to improve starch and fibre utilisation. Suitable examples of these include rapeseed meal, pot ale syrup, dried distillers grains and feed grade urea.

Typical maize silage feed characteristics:
· High energy, high starch (depending on variety and maturity at harvest)
· Palatable
· Consistent feed value
· Due to the low protein content, rations should be balanced with reasonably high protein feeds

When feeding maize to beef cattle, maximising dry matter intake (DMI) is vital to optimise performance of growing and finishing cattle and this relies on:

The formulation of the ration

  • Rations that are either too wet or too dry can reduce DMI, as can rations high in fibre. These conditions cause the maize to fill up the rumen and are slowly fermented. In mixed rations containing forage, aim for a dry matter (DM) range of 40-55%.

Maize needs to be kept fresh and palatable

  • Maize is a very palatable ingredient. Poor storage can predispose it to moulds, which will not only reduce intake but can also cause health problems
  • Consistency of the feed is also important, as it will take time for the rumen microbes to adapt to any changes

Keeping the feeding area clean and comfortable and ensuring continuous access

  • Do not let the feed barriers prevent cattle eating as much as they want. Check they are high enough and wide enough to allow easy access with no sharp edges
  • Smooth surfaces are easier for the cattle to eat from and keep clean. Avoid pitted, rough concrete feeding surfaces
  • Clean feed troughs out regularly, at least weekly, to avoid the build-up of sub-par old feed
  • Allow access to feed all the time. Manage the feed to ensure fresh feed is always available to the cattle
  • Allow sufficient feed space so that all cattle can be fed at once

A clean and fresh water supply

  • Intake of water is positively correlated to feed intake
  • Position water troughs to avoid feed or bedding contamination, but where cattle can reach them easily
  • Clean water troughs on a regular basis with a weekly minimum

The 2018 Maize Inputs brochure is out now! Click here to request a copy.

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