Grouping and sorting cattle, somethings to think about

In many situations, when looking to improve the performance of growing and finishing cattle, it can be easy to look past the simple things and get wrapped up in diet make ups, housing or handling, health issues and breed types. Now all of these are important, don’t get me wrong but I think that one of the simple things to consider is cattle behaviour.

All cattle have a hierarchy with in any group, from caves to mature cattle. Then you throw into the mix sex, genetics and human factors and you can already start to impose road blocks to increased performance.

As calves in a rearing pen, there are many different thoughts on individual rearing as opposed to group rearing and even group sizes. One thing that is clear is that calves in groups will socialise and develop an element of competition for food better, at a younger age, than those reared individually.

At this stage ensuring the poorer or slower to drink calves can be grouped together to give all a chance to get to food, is a start to elimination stragglers from a bunch, also grouping calves that need extra attention or are less dominant will give them an opportunity to catch there piers up. This sounds like a very obvious thing to say but its something that is easy NOT to do.

This theme should be applied to all stages of growth, to ensure that cattle are reared in groups or batches. This makes many management tasks a lot easier right the way through the rearing and finishing periods. Grouping cattle by weight and size will make management tasks such as worming and Fluking easier because you are not having to change doses or calibration of dosing guns between each animal and guess weights. This will save money on medicines and also work towards reducing worm resistance, as under dosing can leave a proportion of the populations of worms etc alive creating resistance.

Cattle behaviour is something looked at a lot in dairy cows but is equally important for Beef stock. All groups have a hierarchy, as already suggested, so some animals will be more timid and less likely to feed as often and will tend to get the scraps of what’s left. This is especially a problem in unit where feed is not TMR or Adlib and there is a lack of sufficient feed space. Resizing these group to put less dominate cattle together can make a big difference to growth rates and reduce time the whole group spend on farm.

On a trip CMC trip to Ireland in September of 2019, on a large KEPAK finishing unit just outside Dublin, the importance of keeping cattle in pier groups was highlighted to the group.

Cattle enter the unit, after having been bought privately, and stay in the group that they came in for the duration of their stay on farm.

This is believed to reduce stress, maintain a hierarchy in the group and increase intakes and as a consequence daily live weight gains.


It’s not always possible to separate cattle by sex but for feeding to optimise performance splitting heifers and steers would be preferable as they grow and finish at different rate. This means that diets can be changed accordingly and tailored to different groups to ensure that heifers and steers reach or exceed target grades and weights, without going over fat.

I’m a big believer in starting with the basic things and build up. Although some of these ideas sound simple it the best place to start or revisit when looking to get the most out of the Animals and the genetics that will build a successful and profitable business.

Matt Rance

Whilst Matt is the technical manager of our forage services team he is also part of our ruminant technical team. Matt’s background is in dairy consultancy and practical farm management, and he joins our team to help us provide our customers with a holistic approach to feeding livestock by bringing together nutrition and innovative grassland management.