Beef cattle are creatures of habit

By Andrew Fyffe – Business Development Advisor

According to Sam Chesney, the highly respected suckler beef producer from the Ards Peninsula, it should be possible to save up to £200 on every beef animal finished in Northern Ireland. He made the comment while speaking at a recent meeting for beef finishers, hosted by United Feeds. And while people might argue about the actual sum of monies involved, Sam is right in principle.

There are improvements that every beef farmer can make when it comes to improving animal performance. These include making better silage and introducing rotational grazing systems, in order to make better use of fresh grass. 

But what about the actual finishing period itself?  There has been so much written and talked about the final 100 days. The reality is that the vast majority of beef finishers do their jobs extremely well. But the reality remains that introducing a small number of relatively simple changes can make a real difference when it comes to determining the final bottom line.

To get a sense of what these changes could be, involves farmers thinking through what their animals actually need and want. And there is lots of evidence to show that such steps are already taking place on farms right across Northern Ireland. For example, when animals arrive onto a new farm they should have access to a straw bedded area – where comfort is a priority – and left to settle into their new surroundings for at least 24 hours.

Beyond this, two main principles come into play. The first is the fact that beef cattle are ‘creatures of habit’. In other words they want to be fed at the same time each day; they also want a ration that remains consistent at all times. So simple things like running the feeder wagon for the same amount of time on every occasion that a batch of feed is made-up and ensuring that each ingredient is accurately weighed for each mix can make a real difference to the performance achieved. Having access to clean, fresh water at all times is also a priority for beef cattle.

Another principle coming into play is the fact that the farmer is actually feeding the rumen – and not the animal per se. The rumen is the animal’s all-important engine. If it is running efficiently, the animal will perform accordingly. If it is not, then the animal will require more fuel and more time to reach the target destination.

It is essential that all animals have their diet accurately balanced and presented in a consistent manner each day to ensure that the rumen functions properly. In the case of the finishing animal this is even more critical as the ratio of concentrate to forage tends to be high. At this stage Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF) becomes the key component of the diet. Any deviation in fibre levels within the diet at this point can have detrimental effects on rumen pH, cause acidosis and reduce performance. This adds to the time it will require to finish an animal, thereby adding to the overall costs of production. There are feed additives on the market to mask underlying rumen health issues but these should not be relied on long term as fundamentally the basal diet and its presentation should be corrected first.

Dung consistency can tell a lot about how much of the feed an animal receives is actually used to deliver performance. At United Feeds we regularly monitor the manure of livestock using a digestion analyser (dung sieve). Sieving allows for an accurate assessment of how much feed and what type of feed animals are actually utilising. The process separates dung into three different components based on particle size and is a great indicator of rumen performance.

For more information please read our Birth to Beef Programme booklet or contact us on 028 9075 9000. Unfortunately, we are unable to personally visit farms at this time due to health restrictions however we are happy to discuss your specific farm requirements via other means where possible.

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