The beginning of April is always my favourite time of the year. Not only does it mark the end of an always busy winter season, it heralds improved herald and the always fantastic sight of cattle grazing.
To date, the grazing season has been 'start-stop' with disappointing growths-regrowth's in many cases due to heavy night-time frost and added recent scattered hail showers.
Most housed store cattle have performed moderately-well over the winter months and will benefit from getting to grass. I am witnessing plenty of these animals now being turned out.
All spring there has been a brisk mart trade for what limited forward store or 'warm' cattle are available. All indications from the cattle supply pattern show a possible shortfall in numbers during the early summer months. As demonstrated in 2014, supply dictates price. The opportunity to have these forward type animals finished off grass in a short space of time therefor should be considered.
Current grass covers on a lot of beef farms are not sufficient to achieve the appropriate liveweight gains for this time of year. One way of providing appropriate amounts of grass is to have a reduced stocking rate over the next few weeks, with lighter animals first to be turned out.
Once possible, slowly increase the stocking rate to meet the increasing grass availability. Another option to control grass supply, while ensuring maximum animal gains, is through spring concentrate supplementation. This concept may sound alien to a lot of people, however given current concentrate prices and the resulting performance it can make economic sense.
This supplementation, when kept in it simplest form (i.e. a barley/ maize/ pulp mix) works extremely well. Up to 3-4kg per head, fed now, will keep good cover and flesh on a forward animal - even when grass finally meets the demand, the animal's overall intake won't be impaired.
I am intrigued by the large amount of fodder beet still available for sale. Last year's bumper yields are obviously responsible for the surplus at this time of year. Normally the last loads of beet are being traded from the growing strongholds in the last days of March.
This year however, there is still an abundance both in yards and in the ground awaiting harvesting. Once again, supply dictates price, with fantastic value on offer. Prices are trading at €26-€32 per tonne ex. yard in the midlands and south-east. Premiums of €3-€5 are being paid for washed or very clean beet. Freshly dug beet should trade slightly behind that of beet that has been dug a while, due to its lower dry matter. It is also important to remember that where beet is being introduced to animals it should be done so gradually.
Beet, whether freshly dug or harvested last autumn, now has a remaining shelf life of four to five weeks. Rising temperatures will initiate sprouting activity, drawing on the sugar content of the root and reducing its overall energy value. Given the vast quantities of beet available, it's current attractive price and the imminent grazing season, ensiling the beet for late summer and even next winter's feeding should be considered.
I, along with all animals that consume it, am a huge fan of ensiled beet. It is a very stable, safe, palatable and highly digestible feed. There are two main options for ensiling. The tried and trusted method of mixing an appropriate amount of absorbent into a clamp with chopped beet and allowing it to ferment is the most popular. A
Absorbents, in order of my preference, are beet pulp, citrus pulp, soya hulls and oat hulls. I list beet pulp at number one due to its ability to firstly absorb more juice from the beet, provide a higher energy source and give a more stable fermentation in the clamp.
Where available, adding maize silage to this mix greatly enhances the final feed, while also reducing the amount of absorbent required and hence the cost. The beet/ maize/ pulp combination provides an excellent energy/ fibre supply for finishing rations. I have also recommended this mix to be fed as a concentrate replacer while animals are at grass.
Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth.