Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

It's time to fine-tune your winter feeding plans

It is now time to look at winter feed budgets.
It is now time to look at winter feed budgets.

Gerry Giggins

For me, the next couple of weeks represent the busiest period of the year. The relative calm of the summer months now gives way to the busy winter feeding season.

Health plans and vaccination programmes are widely written about and discussed at this time of year. Perhaps I am biased, but nutrition management does not seem to get the same 'airtime'. When the topic is discussed, it generally centres on the specification and feed rate of the full or final finishing ration.

As all beef farmers know, getting animals to this full or final finishing ration can involve many hurdles. Successfully managing this introductory period and getting animals on full feed as soon as possible will reduce the duration of the overall finishing period, reduce the overall cost of the feeding programme, ensure rumen health isn't compromised and improve the immunity of the animal.

There are four categories of animals that enter beef sheds for winter finishing:

- Mature animals that go through the mart system and are housed directly;

- Recently weaned animals sold through the mart system or directly purchased that are either grazed or directly housed post purchase;

- Freshly weaned animals or springborn dairy-bred calves that have been grazed all summer and are being housed for the first time;

- Existing on-farm, mature animals that are being housed for finish.

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One common denominator among these different categories is that they all experience changes in their environment and are subject to the stresses associated with these changes.

The degree of stress is obviously greater for recently weaned animals and those that go through the mart system. In many cases, these stress factors are out of the new owner's control.

Correctly managing the early housing period however, is fully in their control and can minimise stress. Successfully adjusting animals into their finishing period is of huge importance and will be a major factor in determining final margins.

Obvious factors surrounding management of these animals include:

Keeping group sizes small;

Providing comfortable bedding;

Minimising animal handling during the early stages of housing;

Ensuring a good fibre source is available such as good quality hay or clean straw;

Ensuring fresh, clean water is always available;

Making sure all forage is fresh and palatable.

The target is to have animals on full concentrate feed within 10 to 14 days, but this is dependent on what type of feeding system, feed rate and forage/feed types that are being used.

For TMR feeding systems, I use the rule that 15pc of the finishing concentrate can be introduced from day one and thereafter every second day increasing the amount by a further 15pc until the final amount is met.

Where root crops are being fed, then only 10pc of the final finishing rate should be introduced on day one increasing by 10pc every second day.

Ensuring that root crops are washed and clean when feeding at this stage seems an obvious statement but over the years I have witnessed freshly housed animals being badly sickened and overall performance being impaired when this job is ignored.

While excellent health plans and vaccination programmes are being advised and implemented on beef farms throughout the country, an area that is too often neglected is that surrounding mineral and vitamin supplementation.

The immunity boost given to the animal by proper mineral and vitamin supplementation at this stage will ensure the successful transition from pasture to initial housing to final finishing.

And any vaccination programme will only be enhanced when the animals are supplemented correctly.

Gerry Giggins is an independent animal nutritionist based in Co Louth

Next up...

Over the next week, I hope to foot bath all my ewes and I will vaccinate all the ewe lambs and last years hoggets for toxoplasmosis. I had a problem with it last spring and I have decided to vaccinate for it from now on.

By treating the replacements each year the whole flock will eventually be protected.

I could treat the whole flock but it is prohibitively expensive to do.

It’s a risk I’m prepared to take as the older ewes are likely to have been exposed to it and are therefore immune.

Indo Farming