DARD Management Notes: Beef and sheep

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BEEF: Silage analysis - The quality of silage made throughout the year will be variable and now is a good time to get an analysis carried out.

At a cost of £20 per silage analysis, including two feeding recommendations, it provides a very useful basis to plan your winter feeding programme.

Managing young cattle at housing

Calf weaning should be handled carefully to avoid calf stress and achieve a suitable cow condition before housing. Wean calves from heifers and thin cows first and remove the other cows in stages over a two week period. Ideally calves should be on concentrate feeding, eating a minimum of 1.0 kg per day for two to four weeks before weaning. Allow the calves a settling period at grass before housing. A well ventilated bedded house is preferred for weaned calves. Ensure calves have adequate space by providing 3.0 square metres per head. Avoid carrying out any other treatments at weaning/housing such as castration or dehorning.

If not already carried out, use a long acting wormer for young cattle, ideally before housing, to allow them time to cough up dead lung worms. Also complete pneumonia vaccinations before housing.

Suckler cow performance

Critically assess the performance of individual cows in the herd in terms of fertility, milk supply and calf growth rates. Pregnancy diagnose before housing, cull animals not in-calf and unproductive cows. At housing, group cows according to condition score allowing preferential treatment for first calved heifers. This may mean in practice, three groups of cows based on body scores; thin cows less than 2.5, cows in good condition 2.5-3.0 and fat cows 3.0 or higher. Get your silage analysed and measure the quantities of silage fed.


Managing ewes during tupping

Maintain ewe condition during the tupping period and for four weeks after conception. If ewe condition deteriorates during this period embryo loss and reabsorption can greatly reduce lamb numbers. If grass supply is inadequate or ewes are in poorer condition, feeding a small amount of a cereal based ration (0.25 kg per head per day) during the tupping period for four to six weeks will maintain or improve body condition. A stress free period during the tupping period and for four weeks after conception also ensures maximum embryo survival. Ewe lambs for breeding should be at least 60 per cent of mature body weight (40-45 kg liveweight).

Carry out all work with sheep, including vaccinations/dosing, three weeks before the mating period begins. There should be minimal disturbance of the flock for one month (two cycles). Using a ram raddle for mating provides very useful information about individual rams. Rotating rams after the first and second cycle helps reduce the impact of any sub-fertile rams. Change the raddle colour every 14 days, starting with lighter colours first.

Store lambs

For most store lamb finishers, lambs finished off grass alone should give the best return. This will involve shorter/medium keep lambs and the return will depend on the movement of finished prices over the short term. Good quality grass should still provide an energy source of 10.5-11.0 MJ/kg DM and healthy lambs should gain an average of 125-150 g per day (1.0 kg per week).

Dosing for worms and fluke is essential and should have been carried out before moving to the grazing areas. Vaccinate for clostridial diseases (4 in 1 vaccine) particularly if you do not know the vaccination history of the lambs and if the finishing period is longer.

Group lambs on grazing areas according to liveweight and level of finish. This means fewer lambs need to be gathered to draw lambs and also avoids additional stress on the animals. Investigate sudden deaths in lambs as early as possible by post-mortem.