24 March 2000

Markets on the rise for Holsteins

Many dairy producers are

undecided about whether to

finish Holstein bulls.

Marianne Curtis visited one

processor in Northern Ireland

keen to source more

DECLINING beef intervention stocks and customer preference for mince are combining to provide a market for Holstein bull beef.

Keen to buy Holsteins, one processor is paying 5p/kg deadweight more than the market average to its producer club members.

Dungannon Meats of Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland, has already signed up 100 producers to supply 6000 Holstein bulls. It is aiming for 10,000 bulls a year, says the companys producers club co-ordinator, David Chestnutt.

"Recruiting producers for our Green Pastures Holstein Bull Club is more constructive than relying on an ad-hoc supply of bulls. It also enables us to offer technical data and advice on selecting animals to members who receive a 5p/kg bonus above the Livestock and Meat Commission weekly average price."

The company decided to put theory into practice, finishing 62 of its own Holstein bulls and sharing good and bad experiences with club members at a recent open day. Greenmount College beef and sheep adviser Frank Foster explained at a recent open day how the system worked.

"Calves born in January and February last year entered the system in early July. As little data is available on intensive finishing systems for Holsteins, Dungannon Meats was keen to see how the system worked and pass on knowledge to producer club members."

Initially a diet of 85% rolled barley, 13% soya and 2% minerals was offered. "This diet cost £112/t and contained 15% crude protein and 13ME. Compound bull beef rations can be as low as 11.5-12ME, but scrimping and saving on feed will reduce growth rates."

Feeding ad lib maintained a steady feed intake and avoided animals gorging, and offering straw was necessary to avoid digestive upsets, he said.

"Such a high starch diet rapidly lowers rumen pH, which can lead to acidosis, so it is essential that bulls have access to ad-lib straw. This increases saliva production, helping to raise rumen pH.

"Silage and hay are less suitable than straw, as bulls eat more of them, leading to a fall in performance. They also contain less long fibre, making them less effective at preventing acidosis," said Mr Foster.

Avoiding ration changes was also important to avoid acidosis and laminitis, he added. "A feeding mistake where bulls were given biscuit meal left in the bottom of a feeder from the companys other beef unit led to three getting laminitis and having to be slaughtered early." But one ration change made to the bulls diet was to include ground maize, raising ration cost to £120/t. "Bulls were growing but we did not feel they were gaining enough flesh so we introduced ground maize gradually, replacing 10% of barley with 10% ground maize each week to a level of 30% ground maize."

Growth rates improved from 1.2kg a day to 1.7kg a day, although some of the improvement was accounted for by cattle recovering from a pneumonia outbreak at nine months old, according to Mr Foster (see table).

"Next year ground maize will be introduced when calves enter the system at levels of 10-15%, rising to 30% in the final two months of finishing."

HOLSTEIN BULL BEEF

&#8226 Market outlook positive.

&#8226 Maize improves growth.

&#8226 Avoid diet changes.

Improving ventilation by removing side sheets and including maize in rations has helped improve performance of Dungannon Meats Holstein bulls.

Dungannon Meats Holstein bull performance


Age Daily Intake Average

(months) liveweight (kg a day) weight

gain (kg) (kg)

5-7 1.4 8 220

7-9 1.5 9 325

9-11 1.2 9.5 415

11-12 1.2 12 450

13 1.7 12.5 470