DARD Management Notes: Beef and sheep

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Business Development Groups: Applications are now open for beef and sheep farmers to join Business Development Groups, and will remain open until 14th December 2015 at 4.00pm. For more information on how to apply/join a group see the dairy notes or contact your CAFRE Beef and Sheep Development Adviser at your local office.

BEEF: Suckler cows - choosing the right bull

Benchmarking results for suckler businesses clearly show the importance of achieving a good calving index (i.e. cows having a calf every 365 days) and the impact this can have on the success of your business.

The choice of bull used often impacts on calving index. For example bulls with long gestation lengths leave less time to get cows back in calf again and this will impact on your calving index. Also, cows that have had calving difficulties often end up with longer calving indexes as they are difficult to get back in calf. The choice of bull used can be the cause, but there is often as much variation within a breed as between.

The choice of bull is not just about hind quarters, size or weight; it should be about overall body conformation along the length of the animal and, very importantly, the growth potential of the progeny. It is important to select sires that will give a balanced overall performance. Performance figures, Estimated Breeding Values (EBV) can often help you to make your final decision.

Thoroughly research the performance figures including the EBVs of the bulls on offer and remember that these figures can only be accurately compared within breed type and not across breeds. The EBVs for calving ease are based on calving difficulty scores, birth weights and gestation length information for the bull. A more positive EBV for calving ease indicates easier calving and is therefore more favourable.

Beef cattle - selection of cattle for slaughter

Regularly check beef cattle approaching finishing for fat cover. Pay particular attention to stock from crosses involving the more traditional breeds such as Hereford or Angus. They can become over-fat quickly, especially at higher levels of concentrate feeding.

Check fat cover 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.

Loin – 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.

Always sell beef cattle when they reach the correct level of finish. As cattle get older they are less efficient feed converters, therefore keeping beef animals too long is likely to have a negative effect on profit margins.

SHEEP: Ewe management - scanning ewes

Scan ewes 12-14 weeks after introducing the ram to the flock. Scanning helps to identify barren ewes as well as ewes carrying singles, twins or triplets. Based on these scanning results separate the flock into appropriate groups determined by litter size and body condition and feed accordingly. This will allow you to better target meal input and help ensure a strong viable crop of lambs.

Fluke treatment

If not already carried out consider dosing ewes for fluke using a suitable product. Talk to your vet about an appropriate fluke drenching programme. Fluke treatment is important this year as the poor summer weather has increased fluke numbers on many farms. You may have to fluke drench again before lambing.