There is no doubt the recent unprecedented Arctic-type weather has taken its toll on all involved in the livestock industry. Apart from the great strain put on everyone in getting their daily routines completed safely and effectively, there has been a negative effect on the performance of most animals being finished.
I have had several calls from finishers who have had animals slaughtered over recent days, informing me that both conformation grades and carcass weights were well behind their expectations. There are some obvious reasons for this, based on what I have observed when visiting beef farms throughout the country over the past month.
The first and most obvious problem was the lack of water due to frozen water supplies. The effect on performance is greater while animals are on high levels of meal feeding. The rule of thumb of supplying five litres of water for every 1kg of concentrate feed was difficult to achieve during the cold snap.
In most cases, water was only available once a day and on a restricted basis. This has had a huge effect on some farms.
The lesson for the future would be if water is limited, then concentrate levels should be reduced. I have offered a solution in some cases of adding the limited water into the mixer wagon, which will reduce the requirement from the water trough.
The western migration of birds from Europe seeking refuge from the weather is obvious on most livestock farms. All species of birds are posing a problem, but starlings are causing the biggest problems.
The ratio of birds relative to the livestock numbers could be as high as 500. Hungry birds eat in a frenzy and are almost impossible to scare away from an open feeding area. If you are successful in removing them from the feeding area, they would surely then attack the feed storage area.
If using forage maize, whole crop or moist feeds in the diet, it is most difficult to protect these feeds from the hungry bird flocks. Feed contaminated with bird droppings, and feed that has had most of the concentrate removed, will most definitely impact on animal performance.
This may have been the situation on some farms for the whole of last month and may still be persisting. All conventional methods of scaring these hungry birds seem to be ineffective. If you are lucky enough to remove this scourge from your own farm, you can rest assured they have just moved to your unfortunate neighbour.
The recent rise in price is most welcome and seems not just to be a reaction to the temporary short supply of finished animals. Continental-cross steers I saw housed on one farm in early September have been slaughtered in the past week.
This is a sufficient time period for these animals to be fully finished and to show a positive effect on kill-out percentage. These big bullocks (700kg) need a minimum of 120 days on full feed to meet their full potential. Continental-cross heifers and Hereford and Angus-type steers and heifers would need 100 days to be sufficiently finished. This farm was particularly hard hit, with water-supply shortages and a huge hungry-bird infestation. And the farmer in question estimated these animals killed out 20kg (deadweight) lighter than expected, which is a significant loss.
If you are buying feed from a regular source, I would suggest you study both the physical appearance of the mix and the feed label to be aware of any changes that have been made between deliveries. I have seen some obvious changes made and, unfortunately, not for the better on beef mixes throughout the country. I suspect these changes have been a reaction to the spike in energy feed prices.
Greater inclusion of poor-quality ingredients may offset a significant price increase but it's counter-productive with regard to animal performance. So let the buyers beware and don't accept inferior feed.
I also encountered a situation with store animals fed on low dry-matter silage (16.5pc DM), where the silage was totally frozen throughout the face of the silage pit. This frozen silage penetrated almost half a metre into the pit. This resulted in very low intakes and some distress among the animals.
The immediate solution was to open the second-cut silage pit that had a DM content of 29.8pc. Intakes recovered and the distress abated.
Gerry Giggins is a nutritionist with Richard Keenan and Co Ltd. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 087 906 6478