10 things to consider when housing beef cattle this autumn

With a strong beef price expected to continue for the next few months, ensuring a smooth transition at housing will help make sure animal performance is maximised.

Vet and integrated beef finisher Rob Drysdale, from StraightLine Beef, talks through some of the key jobs required when housing beef cattle this autumn and vet Ally Anderson gives some autumn worming tips.

1. House at the correct time

Autumn is traditionally the time when cattle are housed and calves are weaned. However, if grass growth tails off and cattle are still outside, they could be losing weight, which can create a false economy – particularly when the beef price is so good.

It is important to weigh growing cattle at grass at least every four to eight weeks, to check how they are performing.

If grass is short, you can offer feed outside to maintain daily liveweight gains (DLWG), or house cattle early.  

Housing adds an additional cost but if cattle weights can be maintained and animals finish quicker, then it is worth it.  

See also: Eliminating winter housing for cattle: options compared

2. Pre-condition cattle prior to housing

Housing can be particularly stressful, especially for young cattle that are being weaned.

Pre-conditioning cattle, by gradually making changes prior to housing, will help minimise changes once they are inside and reduce the number of tasks that need doing at housing.

For example, a pneumonia vaccine can be given prior to weaning. Look for parasitic treatments that will protect cattle for the duration of housing to avoid multiple treatments.

3. Treat for parasites

Housing is an ideal time to get on top of parasites to prevent production losses. Cattle should be housed free of worms, fluke and external parasites such as lice and mange mites.

Faecal egg count tests to detect worms, and coproantigen tests for fluke, should be used in combination with the farm’s history and other symptoms to determine whether there is a worm burden, fluke burden, or both (mixed burden).    

Calves not performing at grass could be indicative of a parasite problem and should be treated.  

The warm and wet summer means there could be an increased risk of a mixed burden. The best way to control this is to use a combination product that will treat for gutworms, lungworm, lice, mites as well as late immature and adult fluke.  

Lungworm can be particularly problematic at housing as they can often be present without any symptoms. However, when animals are stressed that is when they can cause problems.

Always work with your animal health care provider when drawing up a parasite control plan.

See also: Q&A: Advice on worming cattle at housing

4. Adapt animals to their new diet slowly

For young cattle about to be weaned, pre-conditioning the rumen is important. Offering creep feed at least 21 days before weaning but up to six weeks before, will help encourage the rumen to develop.  

All cattle should be transitioned on to a new diet when being housed off grass. A grass-based diet should be offered at first, with concentrates gradually added into the diet over several weeks. This will allow the rumen to adjust to the change in diet and prevent problems such as acidosis, liver abscesses and stomach ulcers.

5. Clip the backs of cattle 

A lot of sheds have inadequate ventilation so clipping the backs of cattle can help prevent overheating, minimising sweating and so reducing humidity in the shed. It also helps keep cattle cleaner.

6. Monitor weights

Weigh cattle at housing and then leave them to settle for a month before weighing again. When growing cattle to finish, weighing once a month is fine. Any animals nearing finishing should be weighed every couple of weeks.

It is important to feed and weigh at the same time each day as an animal that has not eaten for a few hours can be 10kg lighter from a lack of gut fill compared with an animal that has just eaten.

To work out suckler cow efficiency it is important to weigh calves at weaning and then do an age-corrected weight for 200 days. You then divide that by the weight of the cow at bulling, multiplied by 100. The aim should be to wean once calves are at 50% of the adult bodyweight or better.

7. Assess feet

Lameness can be one of the main causes of antibiotic use in the beef herd. At housing, time should be spent assessing feet and anything with long toes should be trimmed.

8. Check tags

When handling, cattle tags should always be checked. If you are thinking of moving over to Electronic Identification (EID) and using the online medicine book, housing is a good time to do it.

9. Get feed analysed

The cost of bought-in protein is currently low, with prices dropping back £20/t in the past six weeks (August 2020). If you can get your silage analysed now so you know what you need to buy in to balance the ration, you can capitalise on the low feed prices.

Silage should be sampled as you work through the clamp.

10. Get cows pregnancy diagnosed (PD’d)

Weaning is a good opportunity to get cows PD’d. You do not want to be carrying empty passengers through the housing period. The cull cow price is good now so take the opportunity when handling the cattle to select only those you want to retain.

Autumn worming tips

Vet Ally Anderson from Zoetis outlines some top tips when worming cattle this autumn.

When worming stock make sure you:

· Weigh animals and dose to the heavier weight (if the weights are similar)
· Check dosing guns are calibrated
· Check the wormer you are using is within date and has been stored correctly
· Make sure your equipment is fit for purpose
· Check how you apply it ( i.e. pour-on, subcutaneously)
· Buy your products ahead of the housing season so you are well prepared.