Farm Ireland

Friday 27 April 2018

Winter housing and feed budgets should be the next priorities

The champion Charolais at Cork Show 'Ballybrown Holly' is pictured with Elma Boyce showing for Bobby O'Connell, Clarina, Co Limerick. Photo O'Gorman Photography
The champion Charolais at Cork Show 'Ballybrown Holly' is pictured with Elma Boyce showing for Bobby O'Connell, Clarina, Co Limerick. Photo O'Gorman Photography

Gerry Giggins

With the longest day of the year now over, the expression, "the year is flying by" is more apt than ever, especially for those involved in the beef industry

The 2014/2015 winter season has been a bad one for the hard-pressed winter beef finishers.

A number of issues that I have been highlighting in my articles over recent months - the need for improved silage quality, correctly balancing the mineral and vitamin component of winter diets, and lowering feed costs and feed efficiency - are all still priorities over the coming winter.

Grass silage that has been harvested in the early part of this month should be in general of excellent quality. Silage dry matter should be higher than normal mainly due to the drier weather we have encountered, but also due to the greater prevalence of tedding and raking machines now been used by most silage contractors.

Higher dry matter silage is always best at the time of feeding as higher intakes are guaranteed.

Having silage analysed for its mineral content and as well as for the standard dry matter, energy and PH is something that should be consider over the coming months.

With silage finished and most houses empty farmers should now be prioritising two key tasks. Firstly, winter housing should be cleaned and prepared for the upcoming winter. The inevitable disease build up in housing and handling facilities should now be dealt with in preparation for the forthcoming winter. All areas including handling pens, handling race, calving pens, sick pens, housing pens, dry feed stores, transport vehicles, and any equipment associated with livestock should all be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

In doing so it greatly reduces the rate of disease and associated matters for the following season.

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Secondly, carrying out a winter feed budget and forward buying some of the main protein and energy ingredients is certainly a worthwhile consideration. The option of forward buying feed for winter use is not just for the big farmer.

Forward buying

The benefits of forward buying are numerous. Committing to, or contracting for winter feed in the summer generally will allow purchasing at the bottom of the market and will protect against any spikes in feed ingredients that may occur over the winter, due to drought, scarcity or world political events. Most feed suppliers are not averse to offering prices for feed straights in large or small deliveries, however they prefer to offer a complete balanced concentrate feed, and supply it over the coming winter season at a fixed price.

Discussing your feed requirements with your supplier would therefore be advisable.

I have been highlighting the increased availability of potatoes for stock feed over the past few months.

Recently I have seen a case of poisoning from potatoes that had slight sprouting evident on the surface but were "matted" with sprouts under the surface. Green or sprouted potatoes contain high levels of toxic Glycoalkaloids.

The potatoes had been removed from cold storage in early May and stored in an open yard for up to three weeks. Potatoes had been feed throughout the winter and the sprouted potatoes were added to the cattle's ration at very low levels.

Numerous cattle were lost on the farm over a very short number of days. The signs that indicated poisoning were dilated pupils, staggering, trembling, weakness and convulsions.

It was a very sad and distressing sight to see prime beef animals suffering and dying in these circumstances.

This incident doesn't deter me, however, from advising on the use of potatoes for fresh feeding or ensiling/storing for later use but caution is obviously needed when any sprouting occurs.

Gerry Giggins is an animal nutritionist based in Co Louth


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