DARD MANAGEMENT NOTES: Beef and sheep

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SHEEP: Preparation for lambing

The best preparation for lambing is to feed ewes correctly to ensure viable, even sized lambs that will thrive. Ewes need to be in good condition in order to lamb down with an adequate supply of quality colostrum.

Numbers of lambs and ewe condition

Make use of scanning results and feed according to condition score and lambing date. As 70 per cent of foetal growth occurs in the last six weeks before lambing, some ewes can lose condition quickly. Condition scoring ewes regularly, along with feed adjustments, helps reduce problems of small lambs and low levels of colostrum/milk supply in individual ewes.

Quality of concentrate

Aim to feed a good quality concentrate ration with an ME greater than 12.5MJ/kg dry matter and a crude protein level of about 18 per cent.The quantity fed depends on forage quality, ewe condition and scanning information. Protein quality is very important and soya is the best source of protein in a ewe ration. For twin bearing ewes the daily feed intake in the last three weeks before lambing should contain about 200 g of soya. Ensure the ration contains adequate selenium and vitamin E (0.5mg/kg selenium and 150 iu/kg vitamin E). A good quality ration has a high cereal content and soya as the main protein source.

Silage analysis

Silage analysis is a very useful tool for assessing quality and feeding value. The feed report predicts concentrate feeding levels required for ewes at two week intervals coming up to lambing based on number of lambs being carried.

GRASSLAND MANAGEMENT

Soil fertility

If soils are low in lime (low pH) and/or are lacking in phosphate or potash, there is always a poorer response to nitrogen fertiliser application. Now is a good time to carry out soil analysis, before fertiliser or slurry has been applied. Soil sample every four years and up to four hectares can be included per sample at a cost of 62p per hectare per year. The sample needs to be from a similar soil type and management system. Please see the Dairy Section for information on making best use of slurry and changes to the Nitrates Action Programme.

BEEF

A useful exercise for beef finishing cattle is to work out the cost of feeding finishing cattle each day compared to the value of carcase gain per day. Average over a 100 day feeding period and ideally weigh cattle at the start and finish.

Check beef cattle approaching finishing regularly for fat cover. Fat cover should be checked at three sites – the ribs, loin and tail head. Aim to slaughter at fat class 3. Always restrain animals when handling and preferably assess fat cover on the left side.

Ribs – if light pressure is required with a flat hand to feel the rib bones this indicates fat class 3.

Loins – over the loin area firm muscle can be confused with fat. Grip the edge of the loin between the thumb and finger and check for a thin layer of fat over the bones. The bones are easily felt in under-finished animals.

Tail head – this is the area most producers rely on to determine the correct level of finish. Press the tail head with the finger tips. A light covering of fat means the animal is ready for slaughter. If fat cover is easily visible over the tail head the animal is probably over-finished.