R. Bras. Zootec.25/Jun/2018;47(00):e20160419.
Challenges of beef cattle production from tropical pastures
The live weight gain of cattle on tropical pastures is reviewed and found to be low and dependent on the length of the growing season. Supplements may be added to address the primary limiting nutrient, which, in the dry season, is crude protein. The response relationships of live weight gain to level of supplement (protein or energy) that have been developed for animals on pasture in Brazil and Australia have been compared and found to be very similar. This gives confidence in recommending a supplementation strategy for cattle on tropical pastures. Response in the wet season was very low and likely to be uneconomic compared with dry season supplementation. Supplementation is costly and should only be used as a last resort, but the strategy needs to be viewed in the context of a growth path to a defined market or slaughter weight. In Australia, high inputs in the first dry season are risky as subsequent compensatory growth can reduce or eliminate the weight advantage of a supplement. There is less financial risk in using supplements towards the end of the growth path. Growth paths can follow many forms and there is no need to maximise live weight gain in each period. Targeted supplements in the second dry season, leucaena based systems, other special-purpose pastures or crops, and feedlots offer the most economical way for cattle to meet market targets. The expected annual live weight gain and weaning weight are other major factors which determine the growth path, target market which can be achieved, and the level of intervention (supplements, legumes, feedlots, etc) which are required and when. Some recent results on growth paths in Australia are presented.