Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Good health status is crucial for Irish weanlings exported to Italy

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Italian cattle buyers have become acutely conscious of the health status of the weanlings they import, farmers were told at a Connacht Gold weanling symposium.

Professor Carlo Rossi from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in the University of Milan told the 200 farmers at Thursday night's packed seminar that their management of nutrition and vaccination prior to export was of critical importance to Italian buyers.

Numerous Italian studies of imported weanlings from all over Europe, including Ireland, had shown a high incidence of pneumonia and resulted in major losses for feedlot owners.

One study of 13,000 animals newly arrived into Italy showed that 11pc of the animals had contracted pneumonia and 1.5pc were seriously affected by the condition.

Another study of 17,000 imported cattle showed that 25pc of them had pneumonia and 7.5pc were defined as 'problem' cases.

According to the professor, the incidence of pneumonia was related to the time of year.

The 25pc incidence rate was found in cattle imported during the winter months, after November 1, while around 10pc of spring imports were found to have pneumonia.

Pneumonia was detected in less than 10pc of animals in the autumn and around 7.5pc of animals in the summer period.

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Professor Rossi told the conference that feedlot owners spend approximately €22/hd on treating and vaccinating sick animals on arrival and the cost of sick animals in the system was eating into and, in some cases, totally consuming profits.

The average cost of producing a 390kg liveweight weanling into a 666kg beef animal fit for slaughter was about €2.85/hd/day, based on a daily liveweight gain of €1.38-1.40kg/day.

Trials comparing the performance of healthy animals against animals that had contracted pneumonia and were treated for the condition, showed a massive difference.

Comparing liveweight gain for the first seven weeks in the feedlot, healthy animals out-performed the sick animals by 55kg of liveweight gain and over a full 200-day finishing period, the sick animals lagged 0.2kg liveweight gain per day behind their healthy comrades.

This translated into a 40kg difference between the healthy weanlings and the sick calves, which was effectively the difference between profit and loss on the feedlot, Professor Rossi told the weanling producers at the conference.

Professor Rossi told farmers at the meeting that Italy's suckler cow herd is only one-third of Ireland's at about 350,000 cows.

However, the country imports 1.4m beef cattle each year to supply its beef trade.

The majority of imported cattle are weanlings, of which just 4pc come from Ireland. France is the biggest supplier of cattle to Italy, followed by Poland.

Management of the weanlings in their country or farm of origin is crucial, the Italian told farmers.

The mortality rate in animals sourced from well-managed farms is 0.6pc but the mortality rate of animals from badly managed farms is almost three times higher at 1.75pc.

He outlined the Italian "wish list" for imported cattle by saying that Italian buyers were looking for weanlings that were being fed meal prior to sale, had been vaccinated against BVD, IBR and pneumonia and were treated for internal and external parasites.

He warned farmers that correct vaccination schedules should be implemented well before weaning and sale as vaccinating the week before shipping did not leave enough time to build immunity.

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