It’s important to develop a good management plan for the housing of animals and the initial indoor period.
Areas to focus on include animal health and vaccination strategies, adaptation to their new environment, reducing the stress associated with moving and mixing of animals, stimulating animals to eat and reducing the likelihood of digestive upsets.Many farms across the country have been forced to house animals 4-6 weeks earlier than anticipated.
Some farms house in early September anyway, to target an early finish for their cattle, with a 70-90-day finishing period and the hope of meeting growing demand and good prices in the run-up to Christmas.
Deteriorating ground conditions have forced a large number of cattle indoors, some possibly on a temporary basis, but animals destined to finish within the next six months are now in permanently.
The link between animals adjusting quickly to their new environment and improved performance is well documented.
Regarding animal health, the first step should be a conversation with your vet. A tailored vaccination plan to suit your set-up will help prevent serious health breakdowns during the winter.
The sudden change in their surroundings is a major stress on animals. Animals that have been grazing since spring — many of which have been at pasture for a large part of their lifetime — are now introduced to indoor housing.
Animals housed on slatted floors will take time to adjust to their new surroundings, hoof-to-surface contact and lying time. Rubber mats on the slats will significantly increase animal comfort and aid the initial adjustment.
Straw bedding, where possible, especially for the first few days of housing, will help reduce stress while the animal adjusts to new feeds and social grouping.
Bought-in animals arriving on the farm will have increased stress levels. In many cases they will have had greater interaction with humans, have had veterinary treatments, interactions with new animals, road transportation for the first time and prolonged period with limited access to feed and water.
Their immunity levels may be compromised. Isolation of these animals from existing farm animals is always recommended.
Implementing a simple plan for animals on arrival to take all this into account will greatly reduce their stress levels, thus improving their subsequent health and performance.
It is important to carefully transition animals from a diet of grazed grass to a store, grower or finisher ration. The aim is to achieve normal ruminal conditions as quickly and as seamlessly as possible despite this radical change.
Cattle moving onto finishing diets when housed will mainly be eating concentrate feeds that are highly degradable and forage sources that are possibly low in fibre. These feeds increase the risk of impairing the function of the rumen. Adding appropriate amounts of straw or coarse hay will increase rumination and help prevent digestive upsets.
Mineral, vitamin, buffer and yeast supplementation are crucially important at this stage. A specifically designed adaptation pack will aid rumen adaption, reduce stress levels and encourage intakes of both feed and water. Immunity levels and hoof health will also be boosted for the duration of the feeding period.
One aspect often overlooked throughout the winter period is water supply. Animals at pasture grazing low-dry-matter grass and exposed to the elements won’t have a huge requirement for water.
Once housed and their diet changes, their requirement for clean, fresh water increases. And animals that have gone through the mart and transport system will require greater access to water sources during their first 48 hours on farm.