Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 March 2018

Beef: Young bulls are most at risk from injury or illness

Young bulls are in the greatest risk category for illness, injury or death.
Young bulls are in the greatest risk category for illness, injury or death.

Gerry Giggins

The Irish weather woes caught up with us again. Last month I spoke about the need to ensure freshly calved suckler cows received the correct nutritional attention to make up for the lack of grass.

Unfortunately, the poor weather has extended a lot longer than we all expected and growth rates are now only reaching levels that we expected a month ago.

The silage season has also been thrown out of kilter, but hopefully the late season will not have an adverse effect on quality and quantity for winter 2016.

On most beef finishing farms the winter feeding season is coming to an end.

Those hardy souls that are summer feeding are now gearing up for the second round of cattle to go through the sheds.

They walk a tight rope during the latter stages of finishing.

An injury, illness or death can wipe out months of hard work and reduce the overall margin potential.

The greatest risk category in this regard is generally young bulls.

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They have been housed longer, fed at higher energy levels, have a higher risk of acidosis, can be boisterous and their rapid muscling can put pressure on their joints and feet.

Careful observation of animals at this stage is crucial, all the while keeping a close eye on cattle supplies and beef price fluctuations.

Given what a busy period spring is on all farms, it can be easy to become complacent regarding finishing animals that have been in the yard all winter.

Animals that have been housed for a prolonged period of three months or longer are very susceptible to lameness risks.

This can be the case whether they have been housed on bare concrete slats, rubber mats, straw bedding, woodchip, open yards or a combination of the above.

There are no established financial figures in Ireland to account for the cost of lameness cases in beef animals.

Recalling figures that I saw last year in South Africa, they indicated that a severe case of lameness costed the equivalent of €200/head. This figure accounted for weight loss, lack of performance, treatment cost and increased days on feed.

Under Irish conditions, this figure may be even higher due to our higher costs over the typical South African beef system.

From what I observe the percentage of animals affected by lameness during the typical finishing period is increasing year on year here, meaning the economic loss from these endemic outbreaks is also on the rise.

Digital dermatitis or mortellaro is the most common contributor to lameness issues. Digital dermatitis (DD) is a bacterial infection caused by spores of the genus Treponema. This bacteria is very active and can spread rapidly among housed animals.

At a recent farm walk, I listened to Sara Pedersen of Devenish Nutrition breaking the risk factors for lameness in beef cattle into three categories:

* Environment

* Nutrition

* Cattle comfort

Digital dermatitis or foul in the foot can be greatly reduced by keeping pens clean and as dry as possible.

At this time of the year, with less cattle in pens, there can be a build of faeces and with temperatures rising it can create the perfect conditions for bacteria spreading.

As cattle are slaughtered and pens become vacant it should be part of management routines that pens are cleaned/disinfected to reduce the bacterial burden.

A huge factor contributing to lameness during the late finishing period is nutrition management. Young bulls in particular, are at their peak feed intakes. High starch levels are the main contributor to poor rumen health resulting in outbreaks of acidosis.

Overcoming this threat can be aided through the use of an appropriate yeast, offering long fibre and providing sufficient digestible fibre.

Feed should be delivered consistently both on a time basis and in its presentation. If feed isn't delivered consistently it can lead to bullying and competition at the feed barrier, thus increasing the risk injury.

Overstocked pens, while perceived to keep cattle 'cleaner' can also increase this risk. Correct mineral and vitamin supplementation is crucial in all grades of finishing animals so as to improve hoof health, strength and immunity.

The practice of footbathing is not as common as it should be on Irish beef farms. Evidence would show that when it is part of a routine management practice, lameness cases, particularly DD, is greatly reduced.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

Indo Farming