Farm Ireland

Sunday 25 February 2018

How this Westmeath farmer reaping the benefits of regular weighing of cattle

Monitoring of stock at key stages is critical to achieving best results

Conor Greene's cattle gained 0.66kg per day over the winter housing period
Conor Greene's cattle gained 0.66kg per day over the winter housing period

Gordon Peppard

When the Teagasc Green Acres Calf To Beef programme was set up over two years ago, one of the key aims was to measure and monitor performance on the farms.

Regular weighing of cattle was one of the tasks the farmers were asked to complete a minimum of three times throughout the year. Weights of cattle were taken around turnout in the spring, mid-season during the summer months and again at housing in the winter.

Having completed these weighings, we now take a look at Conor Greene's performance over the winter period.

Farming outside of Rathowen in Westmeath, Conor runs a 26-28 month Friesian steer system where the majority of the spring-born calves are slaughtered off of grass in the third grazing season. The best performing 10pc of animals are generally slaughtered out of the shed at two years of age.

The adjoining table outlines Conor`s target weights and average daily gains required at each stage along the lifetime of the Friesian steer.


Conor Greene with his calves last July
Conor Greene with his calves last July

From the table, you can see the target at housing around the middle of November is to have an eight to nine-month-old Friesian steer weighing 225kg.

Last year, Conor weighed his animals on October 22 when they averaged 205kg - allowing another 25 days to housing in mid-November at 0.75kgs gain per day would have his cattle coming in at 224kgs, which is exactly on target.

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These animals were fed 65pc DMD (dry matter digestibility) silage and 2.5kgs of an 18pc concentrate over the winter period, with the aim of achieving an average daily gain of 0.6kgs. The protein in the silage was low at less than 10pc.

In any system where animals need to be growing all the time, the value of a high quality silage, greater than 72pc DMD and 12pc-13pc protein cannot be over emphasised. Feeding a 72pc DMD silage would reduce the concentrate level required to 1kg per head per day.

Feeding a large number of animals over a four-month winter has the potential for making good savings based on making high quality silage. Shortly after turnout, Conor reweighed the cattle on the first of April, where they averaged 311kgs. At this stage, they were just shy of 14 months of age. As they gained 106kg over a 160-day period, the average daily gain for Conor over the winter period was a very respectful 0.66kg per day, which is well above the target of 0.6kg.

Given they were gaining 0.66kg per day, the animals would have weighed in at 300kg in the middle of March, which is again bang on target.

The store cattle (20.5 months) were weighed on November 18 as they were being housed. At this stage, they averaged 499kg, which again is where the target was set for Conor.

Over the winter, they received silage and 2kg of concentrates. Four weeks before turn-out, they were reduced back to 1kg. Once turned out, they were reweighed on the last day of March and averaged 575kg.

Having gained 76kg over a 133-day period, an average daily gain of 0.57kg per day had been achieved. The target was to have these cattle weighing 570kg on St Patrick's Day.

These two-year-old cattle were turned out to grass for their third grazing season, where they will receive four to five kilos of concentrates for three months with the target of slaughtering them in June at a carcase weight of 340kg.

As you can't manage what you don't measure, the importance of weighing at key stages over the lifetime of the animal is very important in that it allows you to make better-informed decisions about the management of your stock at a number of critical times during the year, thereby maximising performance.

Gordon Peppard is the advisor for the Teagasc Calf to Beef Programme

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