The objective on beef farms this winter is no different from other years – maintain thrive in weanlings, store cattle or finishing animals, keeping costs as low as possible, writes Conor Dobson, Drystock Advisor Teagasc Longford.
This is easier said than done so throughout this article, I will discuss eight key points to focus on this winter.
1) Maximise feed intake
In order to maximise your performance over the winter-feeding period, you need to provide all the correct parameters to achieve maximum intake.
It is essential to minimise stress and digestive upsets. Maximising intake and increasing growth rates will reduce days to slaughter and improve your feed conversion efficiency.
2) Pen space
Finishing animals will require a minimum of two and a half square metres. Too many animals in a pen means there are fewer feeding opportunities for each animal. Every time they get a chance to eat, they will consume larger volumes of feed, producing more acid and increasing the chances of rumen upsets.
3) Feed space
Ensure that all animals have enough feeding space; so that every animal in the pen can feed at the same time and that there is no bullying.
Large animals will need a space of 650mm to meet this requirement.
There should be fresh clean water available at all times. If you wouldn't drink it yourself, it's not clean enough! Have a minimum of one trough per 10 animals. Large animals require over 40 litres of water per day.
Check your troughs to ensure that they can supply this.
Feed should be of excellent quality with a high feed value. Ensure that the forage is palatable, poor-quality silage will reduce intake and cause digestive upsets.
Diet should be consistent, feed at the same time every day, adjust levels to avoid waste.
Silage should be tested, and feed concentrates accordingly. Feed should be balanced for minerals and vitamins. Additives may have a role to play as a buffer to stabilise the rumen.
Ensure that there is good ventilation but avoiding draughts at animal-level. The animal should have a dry lie and be comfortable.
Avoid mixing animals once they are housed as this increases stress. Have the feed barrier at the correct height, rub marks on the back of the neck indicate that it is too low and is restricting access and therefore intake.
Clean troughs regularly and remove waste feed. Troughs should have a smooth surface and not rough stone or damaged concrete as damage to the tongue when licking will cause soreness and reduce intakes.
7) Health plan
Have a health programme in place to ensure that worms, liver and rumen fluke and external parasites like lice and mange are controlled and are not affecting performance.
Watch out for lameness and treat/footbath as required. Watch withdrawal periods with finishing animals.
8) Know the market requirements
Make yourself familiar with the market specification that your end-user requires. Know the target carcass weights required. Are you finishing heifers, steers or bulls?
Each will have different finishing feed periods. Watch heifers and early maturing animals don't go over fat.
Heifers have the shortest feeding period, then steers followed by bulls with the longest feeding period.