I recently hosted a Norwegian beef producer group on their visit to study the Irish beef industry. The primary purpose of their visit was to study our cattle housing designs, construction techniques and learn about the various breeding, growing and finishing methods used on Irish beef farms.
Coming from a country that has a heavily subsidised agricultural sector, they were amazed at the differential between Irish and Norwegian beef prices.
As a country that imports the vast majority of their beef, market premiums are paid for home-reared and finished beef. For an R3 type bull they are currently receiving in excess of €7.50/kg.
There is no restriction on carcass weight and 1+ fat scores are desirable.
The only negative for the Norwegian farmers is that construction costs are almost three times higher than they are here.
Having visited Norway on a few occasions, I noticed that forage quality is an area in need of attention. Due to their long and extreme winter, they get rapid grass growth in early summer and if harvesting is delayed, forage quality deteriorates.
The main observation by the group that visited us was that one reason why their construction costs are so high is that their cattle housing is designed with human comfort in mind and animal benefit coming second.
Their typical housing is aesthetically pleasing but this design is generally at the expense of good ventilation.
The group also noted that the cattle-handling facilities on the farms that we visited were far superior to what they are accustomed to.
Cattle that are sick, injured or in need of routine treatments can be easily accessed and the 'flow' of cattle around yards, in many cases being handled by one person, was something that impressed them.
Given the Norwegian group's complementary comments regarding our housing designs and, in particular, the air flow and ventilation of sheds, it is something I have been thinking about since they've been here.
One consequence of the unseasonably mild winter is that cattle performance has been greatly impeded in poorly ventilated sheds.
Poor ventilation and lack of air movement will result in cattle sweating. In these conditions, finishing animals on a high plane of nutrition will sweat even more profusely.
Sweating coupled with longer hair will result in dirtier animals and a 'stale' smell in the finishing shed. Back shaving of the animals, while being another job, will significantly reduce sweating. Unfortunately, this is only a job for cattle before or just as they are being housed.
For those that have ever tried to shave the backs of cattle that have been housed for any period of time, they will testify that it is not a job for the faint-hearted. Dirt and matted hair wreak havoc with the blades and turn a simple task into a major operation.
Shaving will also greatly reduce the number of dirty animals but more significantly will increase performance and feed utilisation.
A lot of farms are now running short on straw with little or no options available for purchasing. The great reserves of straw in Wexford, Kildare and Carlow that generally service the island at this time of year seem to have dried up.
Where scarce, straw should be prioritised to certain categories of stock.
Spring calving cows that are close to calving and in good body condition should be the priority group to receive available straw. Straw will help fulfil the animal's appetite, dilute high potassium silages and regulate calf growth, all resulting in easier calving. Finishing animals should be prioritised in receiving straw.
The general rule of thumb is that finishing animals should receive approximately 1kg of straw per day. If scarce, this can be reduced by increasing the amount of digestible fibre being fed.
Soya hulls, beet pulp and citrus pulp can all offset the effects of reducing the straw content of a ration. Weanlings and store cattle that are going back to grass can have straw withdrawn from their diet at this stage where availability is an issue.
Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist based in Co Louth