The finishing line - How the Kepak feedlot is finishing 3,500 cattle per annum
The figures for finishing beef at the Kepak farm in Co Meath are certainly impressive.
Situated less than 15 minutes from the Kepak factory in Clonee, Co Meath, the farm was first purchased in the early 1980s by group founder Noel Keating.
Today, the farm extends to 320 hectares and has a capacity to hold 1,800 head of beef cattle at any one time.
Sam Myles is the current farm manager and together with two full-time staff on the farm, and another running the office, they expect to finish around 3,500 cattle every year.
There are currently around 1,500 animals on the farm but as there are around 70 to 80 cattle leaving each week to be slaughtered, those empty pens have to be filled again for the next cycle.
The Kepak farm fattens young continental bulls and heifers, sourcing around 60pc of them direct from farms.
Bulls are sourced at 10 to 14 months old and heifers between 12 and 24 months.
Four buyers scour the length and breadth of Ireland looking for the best cattle to send to the farm to ensure there is a constant supply of animals meeting the requirements for Kepak’s meat plant.
There is quite a competitive streak between the buyers because the performances of all the animals they purchase are recorded, putting more pressure on them to buy good animals.
Bulls are predominantly sourced on farms rather than marts, however more heifers are sourced in the ring.
This, said Sam, is down to a recent outbreak of disease among bulls bought in the ring resulting in a few mortalities.
“We like buying the bulls direct from the farms and keep them in the same pens individual to the farm they came from,” said Sam.
“This is because they have already established their own social groups and are used to being with one another, meaning less stress in the houses.”
When the animals arrive on the Kepak farm, they are housed in straw-bedded isolation pens with fresh water for the first 24 to 48 hours to reduce the stress.
They then go through a health check where the animal’s bodies and tails are clipped, and a management tag added to each beast on top of the two regulatory tags.
Animals are then vaccinated against pneumonia and clostridial diseases on top of being dosed for parasite control.
Upon entry to the farm, all the animals are weighed to keep track of gains.
The main accommodation consists of houses with slatted floors, some with rubber slat coverings on top, mostly for the bulls, and then a mix of straw-bedded open houses, slats and rubber-covered slats for the heifers.
This finishing farm has feedlot status which means the animals are all destined for slaughter and are not moving to any other farm. The herd is tested for TB once per year.
Animals are fed a fresh mix once per day using a Keenan feeder which has the InTouch system.
However, as there are a number of different types of cattle requiring different rations, Sam felt InTouch was quite slow.
“We went back to Keenan with our concerns,” said Sam. “They have developed the InTouch app which will really speed feeding up for us as we can simply enter the number of animals in each pen into the app and it will instruct the feeder to dispense accordingly.”
The heifers are reared for under 22 and under 30 months beef, and the bulls for under 16 months and 22 months beef.
Bulls are fed a ration of 4kgs brewers grains, 5.5kgs maize silage, 10.1kgs farm premix and 0.8kgs wheat straw per head per day. Heifers are fed a ration containing 5kgs brewers grains, 9kgs maize silage, 8.7kgs farm premix and 0.6kgs wheat straw per heard per day.
“The bulls are putting on 1.7kgs of liveweight gain per day and the heifers 1.3kgs per day,” Sam said.
“We grow our own cereals including barley and beans and take two cuts of grass silage per year.
“Every day we have to mix eight loads of the feeder wagon to feed the cattle once per day. The bulls are killing out at 58pc and the heifers at 54pc.”
Beef breeds on the Kepak farm include Charolais, Limousin, Belgian Blue and Aubrac.
“The Charolais cattle perform better than the others,” said Sam. “However, they are also the most expensive to buy.
“We weigh the heifers twice during the feeding period and the bulls once to keep an eye on performance.
“The farm has built up good relationships with the farmers we purchase stock from. It is a concern that the suckler cow herd in Ireland is decreasing as this could affect our sourcing policy in the long run, but for now, there are plenty of good cattle to buy,” he added.
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