Gerry Giggins: Now is the time for a thorough inspection of winter housing
Last week I received an email from a client detailing the final load of cattle out of his sheds for the winter season.
The impressive kill sheet report, containing a mix of E and U grading heifers, was accompanied by a message from the farmer that 'at long last winter 2018/ 2019 is over - why do we keep doing this?'
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These heifers were suckler bred, born on the farm, 20 months of age, met all requirements for quality assurance and averaged 357kg carcass.
With these cattle returning €0.40/kg less than last year it is easy to understand why this beef producer, along with so many others, are disillusioned.
Yet despite this, I know that when I visit the farm in a few weeks, good management practices in preparation for next winter will be well underway. One area that receives special attention on this farm and should be standard practice on every beef farm at this time of year is the cleaning routine of cattle housing.
Over the course of the winter housing period certain diseases can build-up in all types of animal housing. Simple measures taken now can help mitigate the disease burden next winter.
A lot of bacteria and viruses are harboured in faecal matter and soiled bedding and it is obviously important that this material is first to be removed during the cleaning process.
Pre-soaking dried bedding or concrete slats will help to reduce the time spent washing. In many parts of the country, specialist cleaning contractors offer this service.
With health and safety in mind, ensure that all electrical power is isolated from the building being washed.
In older sheds where single slats are in use, a thorough inspection for any damage should be carried out after washing.
Most single slatted cattle houses are now approaching or over 30 years old.
Having witnessed the results of cattle injuries and worse from single slats breaking, inspection and action to replace damaged slats is strongly advised. Using disinfectants and sanitisers is recommended in addition to power washing but natural light on the washed area is the most effective.
For farms that are having ongoing issues with lameness due to 'slurry heel', washing will have a major effect in reducing the incidence of lameness. As well as animal housing, all handling facilities and animal transport equipment should now be thoroughly cleaned.
Feed storage areas, such as sheds, bins and pits can all carry contamination from season to season and should be included in any washing regimes. A common sight in poorly maintained feed stores is the presence of mites.
Given the high price of feed, any mite infestation or feed contamination will result in financial loss.
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