Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

How to settle newly purchased cattle into their winter housing


Gerry Giggins

The sudden change in the weather has caused a surge in the number of heavier animals being housed. The number of animals moving through the marts has also increased, and buyers are sourcing animals to finish over the coming winter season.

These heavier stores will most likely be housed directly on arrival at the purchasing farm. The change of environment, feed and the added stress of movement will have a huge negative effect on the animals if this process is not correctly managed.

Getting the animals off to their best start will have a significant effect on how they perform from the perspective of live weight gain and profitability. All cattle on arrival on farm, irrespective of distance travelled, should be rested before any veterinary treatments are carried out. Resting for a number of days on straw-bedded areas will greatly reduce the stress on the animal. It is essential to have fresh clean water available at all times in these 'reception' areas.

Irrespective of the final ration the animals will be moving onto for finishing, having some fresh, clean hay available in the rest area will help settle the animals onto feed and eliminate one more stress point.

Every effort should be made to avoid mixing groups from different sources/ marts. There is the risk of cross infection and bullying. It goes without saying that that mixing of the sexes at any time should never occur, and if mixed at this time the rest period will undoubtedly be severely impeded.

The housing period is a very busy time on most livestock farms. Where other duties such as autumn calving of cows, winter sowing of cereals and harvesting of beet are also occurring, the work burden is greatly increased. It's essential, therefore, that enough time is allocated to correctly herding and examining freshly-housed animals.

All animals should be inspected twice daily, once in the morning and again in the late evening. Inspection is achieved most effectively by walking through the pens to ensure every animal is seen.

However, your safety is of paramount importance, so take all necessary precautions to protect yourself.

Also Read

Where bulls are concerned, it's vital that you carry a stick as some form of protection.

Never turn your back on an aggressive bull and always have your escape route planned from the pen. All lying animals should be put to their feet and, if they appear stiff, observed for a few moments to determine whether it is lameness or stiffness.

Knowing what abnormal/sick animals look like is essential to determine which animals need to be removed for treatment. Animals that fall into the abnormal category include:

•Injured animals

•Non-eaters/shy feeders

•Animals with scours/diarrhoea or bloated animals

•Bullying or bullied animals

•Pregnant heifers/cows

•Pneumonia cases

Successful treatment requires early detection, so observing the animals regularly is critical. Proper diagnosis may require a veterinary inspection and treatment. All animals that are treated should be tagged and the event recorded.

Once the animals are removed and treated, they should be accommodated in a designated recovery pen. If animals are coming off slats, it is important that this area is bedded. Sometimes it's very difficult to reintroduce bulls to their original pen when they are fully recovered but this shouldn't be a problem with all other animals. Sometimes animals will die suddenly in pens. If this happens regularly, it is essential an autopsy is carried out to determine the cause of death.

In summary, careful observation of housed animals will allow for early detection of most animal health issues. Early detection will allow for a better chance of recovery and greater return for winter finishing.

Gerry Giggins is a livestock nutritionist and can be contacted on

Indo Farming