Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

Beef: Focus your energies on what can be controlled within the farm gate

Gerry Giggins

January marks the halfway point in the business of winter feeding.

As half term reports go, this month would see a very mixed result for beef farmers throughout the country.

The good back end and extended autumn grazing conditions are now a distant memory given the unprecedented rainfall since early December.

With upcoming weight and specification changes and no upward movement on price a lot of uncertainty clouds the beef sector at present.

However, focusing your energies on what can be controlled within the farm gate is what I would encourage


In general, good animal performance is being reported in beef finishing sheds throughout the country. Cattle were housed in good condition and transitioned well from pasture to housing diets.

This mild weather that we have experienced has led to an increase in animal health issues. Outbreaks of viral pneumonia, especially in poorly ventilated sheds, has been quite prevalent. The absence of cold weather and hard frost has not helped this situation. Incidences of lice infestations have also appeared to be more common this year, with some cases lingering even after second and third treatments.

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Daily live weight gains that I have seen are in line with and above those expected.

Where animals are not being weighed, measuring feed intake is the best indicator of animal performance.

Steers and heifers should consume 1.8pc-2pc of their body weight on a dry matter basis, with bulls consuming 2pc-2.4pc. ie a 500kg steer should be consuming 10kg of dry matter on a daily basis. If consumptions are below these levels it indicates that the animal is not reaching its intake potential and therefore its performance potential.


I will spend a lot of my time this month reformulating rations for the changeover from first cut to second cut silage or vice versa. This year we are seeing the unusual trend of second cut silage being of the same or in some case better quality than first cut silage, albeit with first cut quality coming from a low base. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, pit face management is of paramount importance.

Given the heavy rainfall and higher than normal temperatures the risk of secondary fermentation is greatly increased. Care should be taken not to strip pit covers too far in advance of feeding, especially where cattle are being sold and silage usage is dropping.

Feed prices

Feed prices have been relatively static since the winter commenced.

At the moment, there appears to be no upward pressure on commodity prices. From studying overall feed costs

I see many of my clients feeding cattle at €0.15-€0.25/ head/day less than in this time last year.

While this is a welcome reduction, unfortunately it doesn't go as far as offsetting the higher store price and the tightening beef price.

Alternative fodder

With deteriorated ground conditions, root crop supply has become a problem in many parts. Feed rates should be reduced in order to stretch supply rather than run out.

Swapping and changing feed ingredients, especially one as palatable as beet, is never good for finishing animals and can affect performance.

Where heifers are being fed and issues are arising with overfat covers the introduction of beet for at least 60 days prior to slaughter will help alleviate this.

Alternatively, if achieving fat covers on young bulls is an issue, beet should be removed and increase the overall starch content of the ration.

Despite the poor growing conditions for maize encountered in the 2015 season, forage analysis that I have received is quite satisfactory. Typical starch and dry matters are in the mid-twenties.

Crops grown in the open are unfortunately a different story with dry matters as low as 14pc and starch 8pc.

Where maize or beet are being fed the supplementation of a high phosphorus mineral (minimum 4pc) is vital.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

Indo Farming