DARD Management Notes: Beef and sheep

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BEEF: Save money on feeding costs - make best use of quality silage

With good housing, management and planning winter feeding costs for suckler cows can be reduced by using the body reserves built up at grass. There should be adequate silage on farms this year. Good quality, well fermented silage with a high dry matter will have a high predicted intake. This may result in higher silage intakes than required by some cattle. This is likely to be the case for dry suckler cows and some restriction of silage is essential for cows in a body score of 3 or better. Cow condition can safely be brought back to condition score 2.5 at calving. Batch cows according to condition and provide separate feed arrangements for first calved heifers. If the intake of some of the herd can be restricted, for example dry cows in body score 3+, a considerable saving in silage costs can be made, as well as reducing calving difficulties. If the intake of 20 cows is restricted by 20 per cent over a 200 day winter the saving in silage costs is £1000 (silage costed at £25 per tonne).

What is the feeding value of your silage?

It is important you know the feeding value of your winter forage. A silage analysis provides essential analytical and performance information for your livestock. The important factors are energy value (MJ/kg dry matter), dry matter content and intake predictions. You can also request feed reports which provide a useful guide on concentrate requirements for sucklers, stores, beef cattle and sheep. The cost of silage analysis is £20 including VAT and postage.

Be careful when weaning calves!

Plan to have clean, well bedded housing for suckled calves at weaning. Good ventilation is also crucial. This is achieved by a high roof/air space and adequate roof outlets for stale air to escape and air inlets above calf height at the sides and gables of sheds. Avoid draughts at calf height level.

Gradually break the cow/calf bond by providing a straw bedded creep feeding area in an adjacent pen and reduce the time with the cows over a two week period.

Clipping a 150 mm strip along the back of animals reduces heat stress in housed animals, reduces the effect of external parasites and provides a better site for pour-on treatments.

Finishing cattle

Achieving a good feed conversion efficiency is essential in beef finishing. Feed efficiency deteriorates as cattle get older and heavier, and this usually applies to cattle above 650 kg or animals producing carcases above 380 kg. To achieve a good feed efficiency, feed high quality silage, along with a ration balanced in terms of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Improve the rumination of animals on high feed levels which contain a high starch content by providing a source of long fibre, for example 150 mm chopped straw. Environmental conditions such as a continuous supply of clean water, comfortable, clean lying surfaces and efficient ventilation are also important.

If the correct cattle ration is fed you should see very little recognisable feed in the dung.

Also take time to observe the cattle - 80 per cent of cattle not sleeping, eating or drinking should be ruminating (cudding).

SHEEP: Managing the ewe flock

Tupping time should be an uninterrupted period with minimal interference or movements. Observe ram activity and rotate rams if possible after 14 days.

Change raddle colours every 14 days starting with lighter colours first, yellow, orange moving to red, green and blue.

Maintain sheep on good quality swards for four to six weeks after rams are put out (grass covers of 2200 kg dry matter per hectare or 5-6 cm high). If grass supply runs out early in the tupping period trough feeding an energy source, for example straight cereals is worthwhile for the more prolific ewe flocks.

Make a decision to remove rams on a certain date and move them on that date as many of the labour and other problems associated with a sheep flock are due to late lambers.

When breeding from ewe lambs it is better to use mature rams and remove the rams after two cycles.