Organising cattle ready for the winter is now upon us. What management practices are you employing to ensure a simple and profitable Winter?

Settling into a winter routine can be relaxing, or daunting depending on how you look at it.

Getting your animals organised and having a plan on what they need to achieve over the winter can make a massive difference next year to the profitability and success of your herd.

Seth Wareing, SCC Business Manager, explains what management practices and strategies can make a big difference for you and your cattle.

For a spring calving herd, you will have to manage

  • – Cows – getting them in the correct body condition score for calving
  • – Heifer and bull calves for breeding – ensuring adequate growth rate without getting too fat
  • – Heifer and male calves for slaughter – maximise performance and hitting target specs.


Before housing, you need to go through your cows and select out any cows that do not meet the requirements of a productive suckler cow.

Fertility – all barren cows at the end of the breeding season should be culled. Keeping them on to the next breeding season is a false economy. Poor fertility may be caused by disease or physical damage during calving or maybe a genetic trait.  Whatever the reason the correct response is to cull the cow from the herd because the causes tend to persist reducing the chance of a successful pregnancy in the future.

Cow genetic merit – The genetic merit of cows, namely their performance potential, will steadily progress as the breed progresses.  Usually the oldest cows in the herd will, on average, be the poorest in genetic merit terms and the heifers will be the highest genetic merit.  In Multiplier herds, where selling breeding stock is an important income, keeping the cow herd genetic merit as high as possible is important and culling older animals achieves that objective

Winter feeding and body condition scores – There are significant differences between the management strategies of the Stabiliser and traditional Holstein-cross suckler cow types which have taken some farmers by surprise.

When Stabilisers are offered large quantities of nutritious grass they tend to put on weight extremely quickly and then hold that body condition right through to weaning in the autumn, often around BCS 4.5

This trait is of great value because it provides opportunities to increase stocking rates at grass and to reduce feed requirements for the winter period by about 25% (or the equivalent of 2 tonnes of silage).

Ad-lib silage of good quality will over-feed Stabiliser cows so should be rationed to manage BCS.  Over-feeding is a costly waste of resources and can lead to over-fat cows at calving which can increase calving difficulties.

BCS and BW for spring calving cows

At calving At bulling At Housing/ weaning 4 weeks pre calving At calving
BCS 3 3.5 4 3 3
Mature cow weight 650 675 700 650 650
Example diet Ad-lib good silage and then grazing Managed grazing to control BCS Rationed silage or straw diet with supplementation Small increase in silage or supplement for straw diets Ad-lib good silage and then grazing
Cows fed a high straw diet through winter

The majority of Stabiliser heifers are retained for breeding or sold on as bulling heifers but a proportion may not meet the standards for entering the breeding herd or be surplus to requirements and should be finished for slaughter.

Stabiliser heifer calves under the correct management will average 270kg at 8 months old (weaning for Spring-calvers). This is usually achieved from milk and grass alone. Under average conditions, it is not advised to creep feed heifers as this may lead to heifers becoming too fat and heavy and is a waste of money.

After weaning the heifers should be fed to achieve a daily live weight gain of 0.7kg. For example this can be achieved by feeding ad-lib silage supplemented with 1 kg to 2 kg of a mineralised balanced 14% concentrate ration. If silage quality is high then feeding less or no supplementation may be possible. The silage quality must be measured by a laboratory test to ensure correct ration formulation.

A ration should be designed to ensure the heifers will achieve the target mating weight of 400kg which is 65% of mature cow weight of 650kg. The ideal weight range for heifers at bulling is 390 to 420 kg in Body Condition Score (BCS) 3.  Overfat heifers in the target weight bracket will not perform as well as heifers in BCS 3. Higher weights are unnecessary and a waste of money. This could depress fertility and could cause a lifetime reduction in milk production because over-fatness during puberty inhibits mammary development.

Those heifers that significantly under-perform within their contemporary group and do not achieve the target mating weight range should not be used for breeding. These cull heifers must be moved to a finishing unit in order to maintain the breed performance standards.

It is a false economy to under-feed heifers and to mate them at lower weights as this can:-

  • – reduce conception rates
  • – slow down successful rebreeding after calving
  • – produce lighter calves at weaning
  • – reduce final mature cow size and weight.


Heifer finishing should aim to have a steady growth rate towards the target weight and fat specification at 18 – 20 months old (one winter).  The specification of the preferred processor should be considered before deciding on the finishing regime.  The diet for heifers for slaughter can be the same as steers for slaughter, a single growing ration comprising of silage, supplemented with 2-3 kgs of 14% protein concentrate will usually deliver the required growth rates without too much fat deposition.

Heifers at the end of winter

Aim: to produce young breeding bulls that have: –

  • – high fertility
  • – sound feet
  • – good breed type & locomotion
  • – high health


All weaned bull calves post weaning – first 8 – 10 weeks

The first step – it is vital to have the feed value of all forage analysed in order to formulate well balanced rations.

A high forge/ low starch ration should be fed Ad libitum which is designed to give an average LWG of 1.4 to 1.5 kg/day.

During this period bulls will initially eat about 7kg of dry matter per day rising to about 9kg after 10 weeks.

A well balanced vitamin/mineral supplement should be included in the ration. Zinc, selenium and Vitamin E are particularly important to aid normal semen production.

  • – Feed a 14% protein (on a dry matter basis)
  • – Feed ad libitum: most bulls will consume ≥ 3% of Body Weight in dry- matter intake (DMI)


Adjustments in the ration make-up may be required depending on the quality of the base forage. Regular monthly weighing will determine whether or not the bulls are on target to meet the target growth rates.

Dangers of overfeeding – It is very important that overfeeding young bulls, intended for breeding, during the rearing process to make them look more impressive is bad practice and definitely should be avoided.

High concentrations of starch (cereals) in the diet lead to high growth rates and excessive fat deposition resulting in reduced fertility and mobility problems leading to the likelihood of rejection for breeding purposes.

Normal hoof development, in particular, is susceptible to diets high in starch as there is a good chance of the animal developing acidosis leading to laminitis and permanent damage.

Excessive fat around the scrotum causes overheating of the testicles and damages viable sperm production. There is also a good chance that overfeeding will lead to permanent liver damage.

Splitting the potential breeding bulls from the finishing bulls – 8 to 10 weeks after weaning assess the bulls for breed type, testicle size and physical correctness (including feet) and then scope ABRI data to identify potential breeding bulls.

The selected bulls should then be split into separate pens.

Penning arrangements need to provide a good surface for bulls to stand on. The ideal is a bedded area and a regularly scraped concrete feeding apron with enough room to exercise. This environment will stop their feet overheating and will encourage normal leg and locomotion development. This is very important.

Keeping young breeding bulls in wet, warm and mucky bedding conditions will impede normal development and is likely to result in potential breeding bulls having to be slaughtered.

After splitting the potential breeding bulls, the post weaning diet should be continued but the total diet protein can be reduced to 13% protein on DM basis. This ration should be fed ad libitum until they are about 400 days old. During this period they will eat about 12kg of DM per day.

Feeding – After being separated from the potential breeding bulls at about 9 months of age the finishing bulls should be weighed so that the required DLWG can be calculated to meet processor target specifications.

The energy in the diet should be increased by doubling the cereal (energy) content and reducing the forage element by 10 to 15%.

  • – Total protein content can be reduced to 13% with ME of at least 12.2
  • – The target growth rate of 1.8 to 2 kg per day should be the aim
  • – During this period they will eat about 12kg of DM per day
  • – Maintain the ration ad libitum, until slaughter


Adjustments in the ration make-up may be required depending on the quality of the base forage. Regular monthly weighing will determine whether or not the bulls are on target to meet the target growth rates and slaughter specs.

Breeding bulls
Steer and heifer finishing

You should aim to have a steady growth rate towards the target weight and fat specification at 16 to 20 months old.

In a housed system post-weaning which will achieve slaughter weight at 16-17 months.

The steers will go through a two phase finishing programme.

Phase 1 -Growing.  This is a a period of 6-7 months on a ration designed to grow frame and to support growth rates of 1.1 kg per day gaining 200-230 kg.  This diet is likely to be a grass forage with a cereal and protein concentrate.

Phase 2 – Finishing.  This starts when the animals have reached 500- 530 kg.  At this point a finishing ration which will support a growth rate of 1.5 to 1.6kg/day should be introduced.   This second phase follows the principles of finishing bulls outlined above. A good guide is a 30% forage-based diet fed with a 14% protein concentrate ration.

Analyse available forage/ feed sources and seek advice from a professional nutritionist to design a balanced ration to achieve required DLWG/ age at slaughter.

 If you follow these guidelines and tailor it to your herd, you will have not only had;

  • – Uneventful and easy winter
  • – Set your herd up for an easy calving season
  • – Youngstock that will advertise themselves
  • – Fatstock that will hit processors specification 


If you would like any advice on winter management, please contact us in the Stabiliser Cattle Company office on 01377227790, or

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