Farm Ireland

Sunday 22 April 2018

Ways to maximise a safe and healthy feed

Milford Mart manager John Stewart presents John Doherty with the senior bull reserve champion trophy
Milford Mart manager John Stewart presents John Doherty with the senior bull reserve champion trophy

Gerry Giggins

On visiting a prominent beef finisher in the northeast region during the past week, one couldn't but be impressed with the superb quality of finish this farmer has been achieving on his bulls and heifers.

For many years, he has recognised the benefits of finishing beef animals on ration much higher in energy than is generally advocated and I have fully supported him to this end.

Balancing the ration depending on sex and breed for protein, sugars and, most importantly, effective fibre ensures a safe and healthy feed. It is widely noted that cattle fed on this farm finish faster and kill-out heavier than from more conventionally fed counterparts.

This farm feeds a ration containing a consistent, balanced mix of simple ingredients, which will give maximum performance. It is between 45 to 55pc dry-matter. This promotes high dry-matter intakes.

Moist rations of this spec are easily achieved, as this year he will be feeding wholesome high-energy forages in the form of fodder beet, high-quality maize silage and wheat.

He has chosen soya bean and rape seed meal blended to supply the required protein. Choosing a mineral supplement that is high in phosphorous is the final part of the jigsaw that ensures success.

This year, as a result of the sudden spike in the cost of all energy feeds, especially wheat, the use of soda wheat will be tried for the first time. Using this processing method, the overall cost of the cereal element of the diet will be significantly reduced.


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The high pH of soda grain will buffer the rumen and reduce the possibility of creating any digestive upsets. On-farm evidence clearly shows one side-benefit from feeding soda wheat is a reduction in the incidence of lameness with animals, particularly on slatted floors.

The forage maize he is growing under plastic for the first time this year is comparable with any forage maize I have seen throughout the world.

Careful introduction of the high-energy feeds, especially the beet, will take place over a two-week period when the animals are first housed. There is an obvious need to wash the beet and this will be carried out by a local contractor. Chopping to golf-ball size will take place one or two days in advance of mixing and feeding.

If care is not taken at the introduction stage, the sudden pulse of rapidly fermentable energy ingested by the animal will reduce the pH in the rumen to the extent that this acid-load can effectively switch off normal rumen function, resulting in subclinical acidosis.

Symptoms of this common problem include loose dung, undigested cereals in the dung, tender feet (laminitis) and a pig-like smell in the feeding area. While animals may spend a fair degree of time lying down, they won't look content, often with sunken eyes and rarely chewing their cud.

In many instances, a large amount of feed is wasted. This occurs because a lot of feed passes through the digestive system too quickly to be properly used. Proper feed management is key to this successful farmer's approach.

The key is to keep the diet simple, have it correctly balanced, well mixed and with adequate quantities of effective fibre (chopped straw) to help maintain a healthy rumen, and avoiding the scourge of acidosis and poor performance.

Gerry Giggins is a nutritionist with Keenan

Irish Independent