On the Thrive demonstration farm we are trying to operate a 19- to 21-month finishing system that sees cattle slaughtered prior to the second winter.

This is due to the high housing costs associated with these animals should they have to spend a second winter on the farm.

This system also allows us to maximise the number of animals on the farm. If we operated a 24-month system we would need a lot of housing for these animals during the second winter, reducing the number of weanlings we could keep on the farm.

With poor grass growth rates in the south and east of the country, however, this year it is proving difficult to have a sufficient level of grass on farm to finish cattle.

Soil moisture deficits

The finishing heifers on the demo farm have already been housed due to a shortage of grass and although there looks to be rainfall coming at the weekend, with the soil moisture deficits so great, it will take another two weeks or more for grass growth to bounce.

It is therefore likely that the finishing bullocks will also be housed in the next week to 10 days once they finish the final few paddocks with heavy covers.

The reason for this is two-fold.

Firstly, housing them will mean we can deliver a consistent diet during the finishing period, which is necessary to maintain a good level of thrive during this time. If we were to leave them out they would have good grass for two days and then we would be asking them to graze out poorer-quality grass for another day.

Secondly, housing the bullocks will mean the calves will have access to more grazing ground which should be able to keep them going for another six to eight weeks.

Assessing grass supply

Where grass growth rates are good, such as in the northwest of the country or where the farm stocking rate is moderate, then keeping finishing stock out at grass will not be an issue.

In fact, farms in the west are enjoying excellent grazing conditions at the moment with stock very content and thriving well.

Where meal feeding is taking place at pasture, good ground conditions are making the task very easy at the moment.

On some farms it may be best to house some stock now, say the furthest from being finished or animals that will take a lot more feeding and allow more fleshy types that will be finished in the next month to six weeks remain at pasture for finishing.

As always with dairy-beef animals, it is important to draft regularly as they can go over-fat in the space of a week or 10 days.

Even where it means an extra trip to the factory or mart with stock, it will be worthwhile in terms of hitting carcase specification and maximising the price per kilo of the animal.