Cattle numbers through the marts are hitting their annual peak around now. But this increase in through traffic brings with it plenty of animal health problems.
Both marts and hauliers have made tremendous investment and improvements in recent years in their facilities, transport vehicles and appreciation of animal welfare.
As a result, animal welfare in Irish marts is now among the best in the world.
However, the fact remains that the journey through the mart system is still a stressful one for animals.
It is important to remember that most of these animals are under great stress not only from the strange environment they have just come into, but also from the all the handling they have received, irregular feeding and distances travelled in the previous day.
Newly purchased animals should be rested in small groups on arrival to their new home. Ideally, this is in straw-bedded accommodation with plenty of lying area, access to good quality hay or silage and plenty of fresh water.
It is also a good idea to foot-bath at this point to reduce the risk of later bacterial infection.
This period of extra attention should last for at least two days.
If silage or hay quality is good, there is no need to feed meal in the first two days.
However, if silage pits are freshly opened to coincide with the arrival of newly purchased animals, it will take a few days to reach the uniform and properly fermented silage.
The addition of straw and molasses will help stabilise the rumen and improve feed palatability. If poor quality silage is being fed, up to 2kg of meal per head per day should also be fed.
After this resting period, when the animals are fully settled, routine treatments such as worm dosing, vaccination, tail clipping and back shaving can be carried out.
Any incidents or outbreaks of viruses will be quite rapid and without warning.
Consulting your vet to put in place an appropriate vaccination programme should be discussed now in order to reduce animal stress and huge economic loss.
If you have the facilities and are planning closely to monitor weight performance, then it is important to take the first weight reading after this two-day settling-in period when gut fill has readjusted and a true reflection of a start weight is obtained.
Mature animals will have weight shrinkage from mart to 'home' of between 3-4pc (20kg on a 500kg animal).
In some extreme cases, I have recorded weight losses of 7-8pc. This loss is as a result of animals of having a greater gut fill at the time of weight recording in the mart.
Introducing animals on to winter feeding
These are some of the key points to be borne in mind in relation to this transition period:
nOn arrival keep animals in small groups, with a maximum of 10/group.
nAccess to fresh water at all times especially on arrival.
nIf transported together, separate the sexes immediately on arrival.
nAllow a minimum floor space of 2.1sqm on slats, or 4.5sqm on straw when moved to the final winter house.
nThere should be a minimum feed space 0.5m per mature animal.
nFeed only quality forage (if available) for the first two days.
nCarry out veterinary treatments only after animals are well rested.
nDiscuss with your nutritionist or feed supplier the most suitable concentrate feed for the introduction and finishing periods.
nIntroduce meal slowly by starting at 2kg/head per day.
nIncrease this by no more than 0.3kg/head per day when not using a mixer wagon.
nConcentrate levels can be increased more rapidly using a mixer wagon.
nAdd at least 0.5kg/head of straw per day when feeding more than 4kg/head of concentrates.
nClean out feed troughs or feed area between animal groupings.
nFeed only to appetite and twice daily if possible.
nIf moving on to ad lib feed, ensure sufficient roughage intake. This involves at least 1.5kg straw, 2kg hay or 8kg silage per day.
nContinuously monitor dungs of the stock. If they are scouring, increase the forage levels to reduce digestive upsets.
nAlso monitor intakes regularly and watch out in particular for any sudden drop in daily intakes.
Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org