Farm Ireland

Sunday 27 May 2018

Beef: A real masterclass in the art of beef finishing

Maize silage remained the main forage component of the finishing ration.
Maize silage remained the main forage component of the finishing ration.

Gerry Giggins

I was recently part of the large crowd that attended the 'Beef Finishing Masterclass' in Co Galway. The event was superbly organised by Alltech, Easyfix and Zoetis and hosted by the Bourns family of Lisbeg Farms near Eyrecourt.

The host farm demonstrated all the attributes of a top quality finishing unit, with a detailed focus on all links in the production cycle. Richard and Christopher Bourns, who run the unit, introduced guests to the farm and detailed the key factors in animal health, comfort and performance.

Traditionally all their animals were purchased through various marts in the west of Ireland. Once home, these animals suffered the shock of being mixed with other animals, being introduced to new feed ingredients and being housed in alien surroundings. Even with the best vaccination programmes in place, there was a high incidence of virus related diseases.

For that reason, the decision was made to construct an isolation/ introductory shed. This shed is isolated from the other farm buildings and excellently ventilated. Comfort was maximised by using straw to bed the newly arriving animals.

Interestingly, Charles Chavasse of Zoetis placed the greatest emphasis on having the animals well rested, offered fresh water and palatable feeds for a number of days prior to carrying out any vaccination. This specifically designed house and isolation programme, along with the practice of purchasing animals directly from farms within the region, has greatly enhanced the health status and immunity of newly purchased animals.

Modifications to the existing finishing buildings offered a simple solution to poor ventilation. Raising the roofs greatly improved the air movement and natural light in the sheds and the Bourns now plan to make similar alterations to all beef housing on the farm.

Having been involved in the fattening of cattle for many years, Richard observed huge variability in the quality of imported straights that were relied upon as energy and protein sources on the farm. Today they are almost self-sufficient in all aspects of feed requirement.

Despite a drop in quality this year, maize silage remained the main forage component of the finishing ration. Fodder beet is not only an important part of the crop rotation programme on the farm but offers a high quality, high intake and healthy energy source. In order to extend its feeding period, beet is routinely ensiled along with forage maize.

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All home-grown grain is stored and treated using the Maxammon system. The protein requirement of the finishing ration is supplied by Optigen. Its inclusions rate, of 70 grams head/day allows extra space in the overall diet for higher energy, home-grown cereal to be used.

According to Christopher, the presentation, mix quality and the day-to-day consistency of the ration was as important as the individual ingredients used. The Keenan PACE system plays a vital role in feed management on the farm, with Richard commenting that he uses his phone to check exactly what is being fed, no matter where he is in the world.

Plastic inserts have been installed in a number of the existing concrete feed troughs. These Easyfix inserts offered a simple solution to improving feed hygiene and in turn improving feed intakes. I recently came upon a study from Sweden, where similar inserts were used, showing a 10pc performance increase.

Those of you that regularly read my column will be aware of my obsession regarding the issue of drinking water for beef animals. I was highly impressed to hear both Richard and Christopher, along with Dr Tom Peters from the United States, all refer to the importance of clean, fresh, accessible water being available to animals.

Modifications have been made to the water drinkers on Lisbeg Farms making it more available to animals while also making it easier to empty and clean troughs on a daily basis.

As was witnessed on the day and is being experienced by beef finishers throughout the country, the next big challenge on Lisbeg Farms is to produce all bulls for slaughter at younger ages and lighter finishing weights.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

Indo Farming