Close supplier ties can boost herd efficiency

Efficiency was the byword at a recent beef production open day in Nottingham, where herd health and nutrition were top of the agenda. Rhian Price reports.

Beef finishers should forge closer links with their cattle suppliers to reduce health risks, according to vet Max Hardy from Molecare farm vets.

Speaking to farmers at a beef production open day at Wood Farm, Lambley, Nottingham, he said finishers could mitigate health risks by developing a closer relationship with store producers.

“If you are using regular producers you can start to build a picture of which vendors have particular problems and you can do something about it.”

Mr Hardy said further protocols could then be put in place to ensure animals hit the ground running when they arrive on farm.

“It takes 14 days for immunity levels to jump right up, so if you can organise for suppliers to vaccinate animals, then do it.”

Mr Hardy explained the three-week period post-transfer was a “crucial” stage in the beef production cycle.

“It takes three weeks for the rumen to adapt to diet changes and if you get it wrong you get quite a lot of performance losses,” he added. He said diet changes can have a massive impact on performance and he had seen cattle that had been “ruined by movement”.

Overcome binge feeding

A common problem was binge feeding – where cattle eat too much too quickly, which causes acidosis, Mr Hardy said.

One way farmers could prevent this is by feeding them with forage to fill the rumen on arrival, particularly if they’ve had a long journey, he advised.

He warned diet changes should be gradual to allow cattle to adjust, especially if those cattle have previously been fed a forage-based diet.

“If they don’t intake cereals gradually then you run into acidosis risks because cereal gets fermented very quickly and produces acid.

“If you are feeding a forage and a cereal separately then gradually increase the creep.”

He said producers should limit cereal to 1kg/day at first, gradually increasing it every two to three days.

Monitoring performance is key to ensuring diets and health protocols are working, said Mr Hardy.

“Dairy cows are a lot easier to monitor; the only thing you can really monitor on the beef side is your liveweight gains. Without it you don’t know what’s working.” Ideally this should be done each month, he advised.

Avoiding disease

Mr Hardy said pneumonia was still the “biggest loss maker”. He added: “Fresh air is a big friend.”

He recommended that animals should be vaccinated on arrival and said a shed should have a 0.1mm air outlet per 500g animal to improve airflow.

David Prince of Wood Farm, who finishes around 1,800 head of beef a year, spoke of the benefits of working closely with suppliers.

“We are part of the cattle health contract scheme so we get feedback, including the disease profile [of animals]. Worm and fluke status are two of the main things and we vaccinate animals for pneumonia when they arrive on farm.”

Cattle are weighed monthly to ensure they are hitting liveweight targets of 1.8kg/day.

“It is a very useful tool, because if you can’t measure performance you can’t measure what the feed is doing.”

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