I operate a calf to beef system just outside Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny, alongside my father Thomas, and we purchase between 180 and 200 mainly Holstein Friesian males calves annually.
The production system has changed slightly over the past number of years. Initially all calves were carried to beef as steers at 30 months of age. But as numbers started to increase to maximise output per hectare, we’ve altered to a younger age of slaughter with marketing now occurring between 21 and 24 months of age.
Back in mid-August, we identified 60 steers that would be suitable for finishing prior to Christmas, with the aim of producing carcass weights of at least 280kg at slaughter.
These steers were supplemented at grass for the first six weeks, with concentrate introduced on August 20, and were housed in late September for their final finishing period. The volume of meal offered remained the same indoors as outdoors, at a feeding rate of 4kg/head/day. The plan is to start drafting these animals in the next week or two and to have the majority marketed by November 1.
Although I would have liked to have kept these steers at grass right up until slaughter, our farm was hit very hard by drought in July and August. The decision was then made to house these animals earlier to extend the grazing season for this year’s calves and the remainder of the 2021-born steers.
Thankfully, grass growth rates did recover since these steers were housed, with the average farm cover now being over 1,000kg DM/ha. Housing of the remainder of the 2021-born steers will largely depend on how quickly we move through areas as part of our autumn rotation planner.
The first paddocks to provide grass for next spring were closed last weekend and the aim is to have 60% of the farm closed by the end of October / first week of November. To hit this target, we will have to graze 13.5ha/week between now and then. If we start surpassing this on a weekly basis, we will have to reduce the numbers at grass by moving stock indoors to a silage and concentrate diet. The remaining 40% of the grazing area will then be used to carry the weanlings out until December.
The farm here is very dry, so it will mean that the weanlings have a relatively short winter, with turnout generally occurring in the last week of January.
In terms of management up until housing, the weanlings are currently being offered1kg/head/day of concentrate while at grass. This is something I think is necessary from mid-September onwards, as grass quality begins to deteriorate in terms of nutritive value and dry matter levels.
Approximately four weeks prior to housing the weanlings will be dosed for both stomach and lungworm. This gives their lungs ample time to recover before going indoors, as any of the lungworm burden will have cleared and their lungs will be clean and healed before entering the shed for the winter months. I’m also following a vaccination programme, as historically we have had problems with pneumonia, and so booster shots for the protection of RSV, Pi3 and Mannheimia haemolytica (Pasteurealla) will be administered two weeks prior to housing.