Farm Ireland

Monday 22 January 2018

Keep housing routines regular to cash in on better finished cattle

Gerry Giggins

The housing of beef animals that are destined for finishing this winter is nearing completion on most farms.

Simple routines carried out at housing, and for the remainder of the housed period, will ensure the health of the animals will not be impaired while housed. Animal performances will be directly affected by what it is fed and what routines are adopted on the farm.

Irregular feeding routines will have the animals sometimes waiting for prolonged periods for feed. Bullying and gorging with feed is inevitable in this situation, so the importance of feeding close to the same time every day cannot be over emphasised.

Group sizes also have a direct effect on performance, especially with bulls. Anyone that has experienced the bullying of one bull in a group will then realise that this is not as big a problem in small groups. It may sound unbelievable but I regularly visit farms that not only house bulls and heifers side by side but I frequently encounter bulls and heifers housed in the same pen -- and maximum performance is expected in this situation.

I recently encountered a situation where there was no water whatsoever available for the animals on a fodder-beet-based diet. On enquiring as to why the water was restricted, I was informed that there was enough moisture in the beet and reducing water intake would also reduce the amount of slurry produced.

There is clear evidence that finishing animals will achieve higher weight gains when they are straw bedded rather than on slats, with or without rubber mats. Animals that eat regularly and then have a dry, comfortable bed will spend more time lying and ruminating. When contented, animals will achieve greater performance and also, in my experience, much better kill-outs.

Following logical routines at housing and throughout, the housed period will therefore pay dividends. The following is a list of what you should and should not do.

To Do

Also Read

  • Keep bulls in peer groups;
  • Keep group numbers as low as possible, ie below 20;
  • Stock pens at correct density;
  • Carry out all vet treatments as soon as cattle are housed;
  • Keep to a routine with feeding and bedding;
  • Have fresh feed available at all times;
  • Clean feed troughs weekly;
  • Keep to a well-balanced, fresh ration to maximise intakes;
  • Maximise physical and structural balance of the ration;
  • Have a good protein and energy balance in the diet;
  • Always have a good source of long fibre available;
  • Reduce dust in diets where possible using products such as molasses, crimped and processed whole grains and forages in TMR;
  • Maintain a good mineral and vitamin balance, especially when using maize or beet;
  • Always have fresh, clean and plenty drinking water available to stock;
  • Keep bedding dry;
  • Ensure good air ventilation in buildings.


  • Mix batches or yards of bulls;
  • Have heifers or bulls in close proximity;
  • Overcrowd pens;
  • Handle or move animals unless necessary;
  • Continuously change daily feeding and bedding routines;
  • Allow anyone who is inexperienced to handle bulls;
  • Disturb bulls, especially at dusk or dawn;
  • Let feed run out, especially on a cereal-based ration;
  • Let unused feed build up in troughs;
  • Feed animals any heavier than their marketable specification requirements;
  • Treat individual animals for ailments and always remove to an isolation pen;
  • If the ailment isn't serious, treat and return to its pen immediately;
  • Allow other farm animals to come into contact with housed animals.

Gerry Giggins is a nutritionist with Richard Keenan and Co, Borris, Co Carlow. Email:

Irish Independent