Growing and finishing cattle: nutritional guidance for dairy beef

The growing and finishing phases of beef production require careful management of feed to get the best returns. Read our nutritional guidance for growing and finishing dairy beef cattle.

Back to: How to manage dairy beef production

Growing phase: nutritional guidance for dairy beef rearing

The growing phase during beef rearing is a period of continuous growth when your aim is to grow the animals’ frames.

Growing animals have large appetites compared with their body weight and thrive on high levels of good-quality forage.

Rations during the growing phase should provide:

  • A balance between structural and digestible fibre, as found in good-quality forages and grazed pastures
  • High levels of protein
  • Adequate rumen degradability
  • Moderate energy density
  • Adequate minerals and vitamins

Table 1. Recommended rations during the growing phase of dairy beef production

Nutrients in total ration dry matter (DM)
Dry matter intake (DMI) (% liveweight) ~ 2–2.5%
Metabolisable energy (MJ ME/kg DM) 10.5–11.5
Crude protein (CP) % 14–16
Neutral detergent fibre (NDF) % >40
Starch and sugar % <20

Avoid high levels of starch in feed for the growing phase as this can lead to unwanted fat deposition in meats.

If your contract specifies maximum carcase weights, reduce the growing phase to ensure cattle are not overweight at slaughter. 

Grass silage for growing beef cattle

Grass silage is a common basal forage to use in growing dairy beef cattle.

The quality of your grass silage will have a major impact on the amount and cost of concentrate needed to supplement your cattle’s diet.

See the table below for details of how silage quality can affect how much you spend on concentrates for growing cattle. The figures are based on a 400 kg continental steer gaining 1 kg of liveweight per day.

Analyse silage early to determine how much ration you need to meet growth requirements and limit the use of bought-in concentrates.

Table 2. How silage quality impacts the use of concentrates in feed

Grass silage quality (MJ ME/kg DM) all 30% DM Concentrates required to meet target performance (kg/head/day) Cost per kg gain (£)
Poor (9.5) 5.5 1.52
Moderate (10.5) 4.2 1.36
Excellent (11.5) 1.5 1.11

Grazing advice during the growing phase

For young cattle between 130 kg and 320 kg, grazing is a viable and cost-effective option to promote weight gain during the growing phase.

Average weight gains of 0.9 kg per day are achievable. To achieve these rates, quality grazing must be available, and you need to have good animal management practises in place.

For faster weight gains, you generally would need to supplement the cattle’s intake with high-energy feeds. Alternatively, it is possible to feed a balanced total mixed ration (TMR) at grazing, but adequate feeding facilities must be available.

If your cattle are going out to grass the following spring, you should reduce the concentrates fed for six to eight weeks before turnout. Then, from four weeks before turnout, do not include any concentrates in their feed to pre-condition the cattle to a grazed grass diet.

Finishing phase: nutritional guidance for dairy beef production

Finishing diets for beef production are energy-dense, usually containing feeds rich in starch, to maximise energy intake.

Steers and heifers require relatively low amounts of protein (at around 12%). Bulls may need higher levels of protein.

The key to profitable finishing is maximising feed conversion efficiency (FCE).

FCE is achieved by maintaining optimum dry matter intakes and high liveweight gains.

Improving FCE reduces the amount of feed required for each unit of weight gain, so it cuts your production costs.  

Find out more about dairy beef production with heifers and steers

Table 3. Recommended elements in a finishing ration

Nutrients in total ration DM Notes
(% of liveweight) 1.7–2.2 Aim to maximise intake through feed access, freshness and palatability
Metabolisable energy (MJ ME/kg DM) >12

Energy, particularly from starch, is vital to drive liveweight gain in finishing. Levels should be chosen to match cattle type and market specification.

Starch and sugar (%) >20 Feeds rich in starch and sugars are common components of finishing diets but need to be managed carefully to avoid digestive upsets. Balance with sources of digestible fibre.
Crude protein (CP %) 12–14 Crude protein levels are lower in finishing rations than in growing rations
Long fibre (%) 10–12 in intensive rations Long fibre is important in intensive rations, where cattle will eat around 12% of DMI as straw (1–1.5 kg/day). Best supplied in separate racks or mixed into the complete ration. Avoid relying on bedding to supply adequate long fibre in the diet.
Oil (%) <6 Oil can be a useful rich energy source, but excessive amounts can depress intake

Example: FCE and Holstein cattle

An example of the impact of FCE on profits is with Holstein cattle.

Holstein cattle tend to eat 10% more dry matter per day than traditional beef breeds. So, together with their lower potential for growth, they have a lower FCE.

Holsteins have a large mature size and tend to lay down lean tissue rather than a lot of fat. This means they can perform well on good-quality forages early on. However, as they grow older, they can continue to grow frame without enough fat to finish. To prevent this, the finishing ration must be high in metabolic energy.

With Holstein bulls, increasing crude protein levels above 14% in the dry matter while finishing Holstein bulls shows no response in growth rates.  

Grazing – for growing and finishing cattle

If your cattle are grazing near finishing, you should provide feeding rates of 0.5 kg concentrate per 100 kg of liveweight.

Based on this rate, a grazing 500 kg animal would require about 2.5 kg per head per day.

If your grass supply or quality is poor, you may need higher feeding rates to meet your finishing targets.

When high levels of supplementary feeding is required, cattle may be better suited to being housed and finished inside.

The table below outlines the target sward heights for growing and finishing cattle based on the time of year.

Table 4. Target sward heights for growing and finishing cattle

Period Rotational pre-grazing height (cm) Rotational post-grazing height (cm) Continuous (cm)
Turnout–May 10–12 5–6 5–6
June–July 10–14 6–7 6–7
Aug–Sept 10–15 7–8 7–8

See our guide to growing and finishing cattle for more details

Useful links

Explore more specific nutritional guidance for calves, heifers, steers and bulls:

Nutritional guidance for dairy beef calves

How to produce veal from dairy-bred calves

Dairy beef production with heifers and steers

How to rear dairy beef bulls

Access the ‘Dairy beef production systems' manual, for further practical advice

If you would like to order a hard copy of the Dairy beef production systems manual, please contact or call 0247 799 0069.