Gerry Giggins: Now is the ideal time to carry out a mid-season assessment of cattle
The New Year signifies the midway point of the winter feeding season.
While it was difficult for beef farmers to have much festive cheer after a most difficult 2019, we can only hope that the Irish beef price starts to rise and track international markets in 2020.
Where time allows, it is the ideal stage to carry out a weight assessment of cattle, particularly those that have been housed for more than 50 days.
At this stage, any effects of gut fill, compensatory growth and the adjustment period to new diet and environment have been negated.
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For those that are skilled enough to estimate an accurate weight through visual assessment, it is not always necessary to weigh every animal.
Weighing circa 10pc of animals will provide a good indication as to animal weight gains and performance.
In the scenario where cattle are not achieving their desired weight gain targets, the key issues to look at are diet, health, environment and overall management.
With regards to the diet, factors such as forage quality, concentrate quantity and quality, the feeding system and mineral/ vitamin supplementation are the most important to consider.
Examination of the animal's manure is the best indicator as to how the diet is performing. Too loose, too stiff, grains passing in the manure and undigested fibre are all common indicators of under-performing cattle.
Where feed intake is being accurately measured, using a mixer wagon, 2pc of the animal's body weight should be consumed on a dry matter basis, when feeding a diet based on grass silage.
When feeding beet, maize silage, moist by-products or potatoes, feed intakes for steers and heifers should increase to 2.2pc of their body weight.
Where poor feed intakes are an issue, overall dry matter of the diet and diet palatability needs to be considered.
Freshness of the feed will also play a big factor in animal intakes, with daily feeding being essential with certain forages.
For those that were lucky enough to forward purchase their concentrate and grain requirements at the beginning of the feeding season, the recent price increases have justified their decision.
Rolled barley is now trading in excess of €200/t, which is a significant increase from prices of €140/t at harvest time.
Last year, maize grain was available to purchase at prices below that of barley and wheat.
However, its price is now trending upwards on international markets and as a result barley and wheat prices are also increasing.
Digestible fibre sources, such as beet pulp, soya hulls and citrus pulp have also tracked upwards.
On the protein front, the price of soya bean meal hasn't moved as significantly as alternative bulk protein sources such as distillers and corn gluten.
Given the excellent yields that were obtained from 2019 beet and maize crops, there are good opportunities for livestock farmers to acquire these feeds from growers.
As stated earlier, where low feed intakes are an issue and concentrate costs are rising, the addition of beet or maize silage should act to increase performance and reduce overall feed costs.
As ingredient prices rise, it is important to monitor the ingredient list and inclusion rates of concentrate feed. The temptation to include lower quality feeds such as palm kernel, wheat feed, lucerne pellets, fats and oils should be avoided.
While their inclusion will help to hold the price down, they will have a negative effect on the overall energy density of the diet and resulting performance of the animals.
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