Teagasc tips for the wintering and feeding of livestock

With all cattle housed by now,here are some simple tips for wintering and feeding of stock.

Silage:

  • Your silage quality will determine the feeding strategy for all your stock. From experience, visual assessment, texture and smell, most farmers will know whether they have good or bad silage. However, a more detailed analysis costing only €35 would be very beneficial. This would tell you how good your silage actually is and what level of meal feeding you would need with it. Consult your Teagasc Adviser or local Agricultural Consultant about this.
  • If purchasing bales of silage, buy from a known source. When buying, ensure there is no ragwort, excess thistles or ferns present in the bales.
  • Keep face of silage pits straight and neat when using a shear grab.

Feeding Concentrates:

  • Keep stock on a consistent diet. Once settled, cattle thrive best when they are fed the same ration at the same time each day.
  • Do not change the diet. Changing the ration will lead to change of microorganism type and balance in the rumen, this causes rumen inefficiency and digestive upsets.
  • If feeding concentrates suck as rolled barley or wheat, they should be introduced slowly, gradually increasing the amount being fed.
  • Once the amount of ration being fed exceeds 5kg, split the ration feeding the same amount twice daily at the same time each day.
  • Crude protein content is important for growing stock such as weanlings, replacement heifers, store cattle, it is energy that puts the flesh on animals.
  • When purchasing a ration or compound feed from your agri-merchant or feed supplier, request a list of ingredients, the crude protein content and the energy level of the ration.
  • A quality ration should contain high levels of barley, wheat, soya bean, maize gluten etc.
  • Purchased compound feeds or rations will have minerals and vitamins included and will be balanced. If feeding suckler cows, check for the inclusion of trace elements such as Copper, Iodine Selenium.
  • Any ration being fed to stock should be palatable, fresh smelling and free of dust. Ensure clean, fresh drinking water is available at all times. Adequate feeding spaceat feed barriers/shutters should be available for all stock being fed concentrates.

Shed Environment:

  • As stock grow, so too does the space required by animals. If your pens are overstocked, animal performance will suffer. This is due to restricted movement in pens which in turn reduces free access to forage. If you are feeding meal, make sure all bovines can eat at the feed barrier at the one time.
  • Good ventilation is vital for all stock. Housed cattle produce excess heat and moisture. These have to be taken away in ventilation. Signs of poor ventilation are condensation on roofs and other surfaces, mould growth on timbers, wet coats and dirty hides on cattle. Usually, simple structural changes to the side walls and roof of a shed is enough to rectify the problem of poor ventilation. Leave sliding doors open as much as possible in slatted sheds to provide fresh air.
  • Exercise will benefit stock. Where two or three pens adjoin each other with cattle of the same sex, age and weight, the gates between pens could be taken out, thus providing more space for animals to move about. This is especially important for suckler cows and in calf heifers as they approach calving time. Avoid frightening animals when entering sheds; they may stampede into corners of pens.

By Anthony O’ Connor, Teagasc Adviser, Galway/Clare Regional Unit

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