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DairyBeef 500 Newsletter November 2022

 Ensuring winter performance | Lice treatmentDairyBeef 500 Discussion Groups

Ensuring winter performance

With the clock having gone back and the heavy rainfall over the past few weeks, the winter is well and truly in on the majority of farms throughout the country. Rising input costs over the past 12 months means farmers will feel the pinch this winter. DairyBeef 500 farmers are aware they cannot afford to cut corners over this period and that achieving an adequate level of weight gain over the course of winter months is crucial. This will ensure the good results achieved over the summer months are not undone.

The target over winter months is at least 0.6kg/day for steer and heifer weanlings and 0.9kg/day for finishing heifers and over 1kg/day for steers. These weight gains are being achieved consistently on the DairyBeef 500 farms. Below are some of the main areas for farmers to focus on to ensure performance is maintained.

Silage analysis

Nationally, silage quality of around 65% dry matter digestibility (DMD) has been the norm. This silage is only capable of supporting a daily live weight of 0.3-0.4kg/day for stock without the inclusion of meal. Completing silage analysis is critical to ensure that the nutritional requirements of stock are met and that the desired level of performance is achieved over the winter. Visual assessment alone is not adequate to determine silage quality. A laboratory test will provide accurate information on silage nutritive value and preservation and allow informed concentrate feeding decisions to be made.

Silage samples must be taken carefully to ensure correct results. A period of 5-6 weeks should elapse between ensiling and sampling. A long core sampler should be used with 3-5 cores taken from well-spaced points on or between diagonals on the pit surface. Alternatively sample an open pit by taking nine grab samples in a ‘W’ pattern across the pit face. When testing bales, a number of samples from each batch are needed to get a representative sample.

Table 1: Guideline daily feeding rates based on silage quality (DMD)

Animal typeTarget ADG66 DMD68 DMD70 DMD72 DMD74 DMD
Weanling 0.6kg/day 1.8kg 1.5kg 1.2kg 0.9kg 0.4kg
Finishing steer 1kg/day 7.0kg 6.0kg 5.5kg 5.0kg 4.0kg
Finishing heifer 0.9kg/day 7.0kg 6.0kg 5.5kg 5.0kg 4.0kg

Lying and feeding space

Adequate lying and feeding space is important to ensure animal performance over the winter months.  Animals should be housed with comrades of similar size and weight to avoid bullying in the pen and at feeding. Table 2 and 3 look at the ideal lying and feed space required for the different groups of stock housed in slatted accommodation over the winter.

Table 2: Lying space allowances (m2/animal)

Animal typeSpace allowance
Suckler cows 2.5-3.0
>275kg 2.0-2.5
<275kg 1.2-1.5

 Table 3: Recommended feed space allowances (mm/head)

FeedstuffFinishing cattleLight store cattleWeanlings
Ad-lib roughage 400-500 250-300 225-300
Restricted roughage 600-650 500-600 400-500
Concentrates 600-650 500-600 400-500


Access to clean, fresh drinking water is every bit as important as good quality silage or any dosing programme.  Cattle have a huge need for water while housed. Water troughs should be checked daily and if there is any sign of any soiling with either animal waste or feed, they must be cleaned immediately. Where high levels of meal are fed, larger water troughs are a better option as opposed to bowl drinkers as demand for water increases with meal feeding. 

Lice treatment - failure to treat can adversely affect weight gain

Lice treatment is usually carried out at housing but repeat treatment is necessary in many cases. Lice infestations left untreated have the potential to significantly reduce weight gain in finishing cattle, in what is an expensive time in a finishing animal’s life.

There are basically two types of products used in the control of lice. You have the: pour-on synthetic pyrethroids; and injectable or pour-on ivermectins. Injectable and pour-on products can be used to manage mites and sucking lice, but only pour-on products are effective against biting lice. The pour-on products will disperse throughout the fat layer, which is how they become effective against biting lice, as they do not ingest blood.

For pour-on products, correct administration is key to effective control. If using a pour on to control lice, it is generally best to clip the backs of cattle. It is also important not to under dose. Lice spread very readily between cattle and the main route of transmission is by direct contact, so all contact animals should be treated at the same time. It is also important to treat any bought-in animals before they are let join any groups of housed cattle that have been already treated.

Cattle should be checked two to three weeks after the initial treatment just to make sure they are not showing signs of infestation. The reason you may have to treat again after two to three weeks is to kill off any lice that have hatched from eggs since your last treatment.

Belgian Blue weanlings housed over the winter months

Benefits of joining a DairyBeef 500 discussion group

Knowledge transfer between advisors and farmers is the core element of the DairyBeef 500 Campaign. Discussion groups will be one of the main channels used for transferring the main messages of operating a successful dairy calf to beef enterprise.

Currently discussion groups are being formed across all Teagasc advisory regions for those who are operating or those planning on implementing a dairy calf to beef enterprise on their farm. The groups will be delivered by the Teagasc team of advisors and specalists, and will focus on important aspects of farm management such as: calf rearing; grassland management; financial management; animal health; labour and time management; animal nutrition; animal performance; as well as any other important aspects of running a successful dairy calf to beef enterprise.

Farmers attending a discussion group meeting as part of the DairyBeef 500 Campaign

Once established, groups will meet 6-7 times annually. The local Teagasc DairyBeef 500 demonstration farms will be used initially during the group start-up phase and then the group will expand to other member farms, as well as the opportunity to visit some of the dairy calf to beef research farms.

These groups will give farmers the opportunity to share ideas, solve problems and acquire technical expertise. A timetable/schedule of the dates, venues and topics for the discussion group will be developed at the start of the year and this will provide a platform for the group for the year. While on farm meetings will be the primary mode of interaction among farmers, the discussion groups will also utilise a number of methods of communication, such as WhatsApp, Zoom and various other methods of communication technology.

Working with dairy farms

While working with dairy calf to beef producers is the main focus initially, engaging with dairy groups will also be an important aspect of the discussion groups. The DairyBeef 500 Campaign will be working with dairy discussion groups where the main focus will be on a small number of critically important aspects of farm management including: breeding/genetics for the dairy herd; calf rearing and the care of the newborn calf; grassland management; financial management; as well as looking at labour and time management and potential ways that time can be saved on farms. 

For anyone wishing to join a dairy calf to beef discussion group, please contact your local Teagasc office or email dairybeef500@teagasc.ie.

Farm Update November 2022

Charlie Smyth, Virginia, Co. Cavan

We have operated a calf to beef system on this farm since 2019, purchasing 40 calves in the first year and gradually building up numbers each year with over 100 purchased in the spring of 2022.  

I currently farm approximately 60 hectares just outside Virginia, Co. Cavan. The soil type is a mixture of relatively free-draining to a heavy, drumlin soil type. The farm is fragmented and there are three outblocks, which significantly increases the workload.

The type of calves we buy, mainly bulls, are a mixture of Friesian, Angus, Hereford and Aubracs. This is our first year with Aubrac calves, so it will be interesting to see how they perform.

Going forward, we are going to place a lot of emphasis on where we source our calves, as there is a massive variation in animal performance amongst the farms that we currently source our calves from. The new Commercial Beef Value (CBV) will be a great tool going forward to help us determine which calves and herds we should be sourcing from.

Last year, we finished the majority of our cattle between the months of February and May at 24 to 26 months. This year, we decided to do things a bit differently with the aim that some of the cattle will be killed earlier than usual.

To achieve this, we identified 20 steers that would be suitable for finishing prior to Christmas in mid-September, with the aim of producing carcass weights of at least 280kg at slaughter. In mid-September, these steers were +470kg livewight.

Finishing steers on Charlie Smyth's farm

These steers were housed in the first week of October and supplemented with 4kg/head/day of concentrate, along with good quality silage. The volume of meal will be increased shortly to 6kg/head/day of a high-maize finishing ration. The plan is to start drafting these animals for slaughter around the second week of December.

All this year’s weanlings are now housed and are currently on 1kg/head/day of a 16% protein concentrat; the older cattle are housed, apart from a few store bullocks that are on a dry part of the farm.

From mid-October onwards ground conditions in this part of Cavan detoriated rapidly, resulting in an earlier than usual winter. There is a good cover of grass on the farm, so hopefully we will be able to get out early to graze this in the spring. However, we do have enough silage on farm even if it is a challenging winter.

This year, we castrated calves before housing, so we vaccinated one month before castration and then gave a booster on the day of castration. All housed cattle were dosed for fluke and stomach worms two weeks after entering the sheds and when all the cattle are housed they will be treated for lice. Booster shots for the protection of RSV, Pi3 and Mannheimia haemolytica (Pasteurealla) was administered two weeks prior to housing.

At the moment, we are tight for winter accommodation and the plan is to apply for a TAMS grant for a four-bay double slatted shed.  This is the last TAMs tranche under the current CAP and the deadline is December 16. Construction costs have gone up significantly in the last two years, but the lack of wintering accommodation is affecting the stocking rate and ultimately the amount of income that I can generate on every hectare of land.