15 December 1995

BSEscare:Slim down held stock beef men told…

By Rebecca Austin

BEEF producers withholding finished stock from the depressed market – due to current media BSE scares – must adjust cattle diets to avoid fat penalties when animals eventually reach the abattoir.

Signet consultant Jim Stark says it takes about six weeks for a bullock to drop a fat class. He therefore urges producers to hold on to their best cattle, which have the ability to grow on rather than lay down fat, and sell those with poorer growth rates.

Continentals leaner

"When an animal is ready for sale it ought to go, although that depends on how much it will be penalised for fatness," says Mr Stark. "Anyone with Continentals could perhaps delay as these breeds are leaner. But those with cattle nearly finished cant do much to avoid the price drop."

He suggests producers with cattle a month from finishing could dilute the ration by increasing forage intakes – although he admits there is little room for change in intensive barley beef enterprises.

"Cattle can eat up to 40kg of fresh silage a day and produce a daily liveweight gain of 0.7kg off good quality silage alone," says Dr Mitch Lewis, ruminant nutritionist at the Scottish Agricultural College.

But offering cattle ad lib silage in a season when forage stocks are short is not a practical option for some producers, acknowledges Dr Elwyn Rees, a senior ADAS livestock consultant.

He suggests these producers feed a ration comprising two-thirds silage and one third straw. This would produce a liveweight gain of about 0.6kg a day.

"They must have fibre," says Dr Rees. "If you want to store stock, cut back on their energy intake. Cattle are less likely to fatten on a supplement containing digestible fibre, than starch which is a fattening ingredient. Try and substitute maize gluten or sugar beet for cereals."

&#8226 This week brings scientific evidence that indicates changes to feed rendering have influenced the spread of BSE. A report in The Veterinary Record (Dec 9) states cattle have been exposed to infected feed as a direct result of two changes to rendering procedures in the 70s and early 80s.

[MAFF has confirmed BSE cases are down to 11,365 this year as against a high of 36,681 in 1992].