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Mid-season weighing – ‘knowledge is power’

DairyBeef 500 Programme farmers are in the midst of mid-season weighing. Not only does this management practice give an excellent indication of how animals have performed since turnout, it also provides valuable information for decision making and planning for the remainder of the year.

DairyBeef 500 programme advisor Sean Cummins outlines the importance of weighing and has some advice on how to achieve target weights. There is also an update from DairyBeef 500 farmer Ciaran Bartley

Weight gain targets

For simplicity, the weight gain targets can be split into two categories. For first-season animals (2022-born calves), a daily weight gain of 0.7-0.8kg/head/day is required from birth. For second-season animals, a weight gain target of 1kg/head/day is desired from turnout.

Where the performance recorded at farm level for either category of animal falls below these targets, a focus must be placed on the operations at farm level.

In instances where calves have failed to gain 0.7kg/head/day up to mid-season, the calf rearing protocol – particularly the transitioning from the indoors to the outdoors - must be examined to rule out the possibility of any post-weaning growth check.

Health and nutrition

Health is also a critical aspect to achieving the desired level of performance and research has shown that animals that suffer a disease set back in the form of pneumonia are slower growing and take longer to finish. 

With both categories of animals, one of the most common factors for a lack of animal performance is inadequate nutrition. As widely touted, grazed grass is the cheapest source of feed available to dairy-beef animals, but failing to utilise the right grazing practices can often lead to a lower than desired level of daily gain.

If animals have remained healthy since turnout and an appropriate internal/external parasite control programme has been implemented, the lack of performance for second season grazing animals is often associated with inadequate grassland management.

Think back on how the year has progressed to date. Do you think you’ve maximised performance from grazed grass thus far and what would you do differently next year?

Grazing targets:

  • Aim for a high-leaf content and good utilisation of grazing swards.
  • Introduce stock to covers of 8-10cm - 1,300-1,600kg DM/ha.
  • Remove stock from paddocks at a grass height of 4.0- 4.5cm.
  • Follow the ‘graze in three days, grow in three weeks’ principle an 18-21 day rotation.
  • Take excessively heavy paddocks as surplus bales if grass supplies allow.
  • Don’t waste grass – if forced to graze heavy covers, use a strip wire.

Informed decisions

As much as we dread to think it, the winter finishing period is fast approaching and the knowledge garnered from the completion of a mid-season weighing provides power when it comes to generating a finishing plan on farm. Where optimum levels of animal performance have been achieved, there may be scope to identify animals for finishing prior to an indoor feeding period.

This is an area where many of the DairyBeef 500 participants have placed a particular focus on over the last number of years whilst enrolled in the Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme.

Predominately, early-maturing animals – especially heifers – are most suited for this production system, as most of these animals don’t have to the scope to grow into heavier carcass weights to justify indoor feeding over the winter months. 

While animals are being weighed, it’s worth spending time to identify any animals that may be suitable for finishing by identifying the level of fatness already present and the potential for these animals to grow.

For heifers, any animal weighing in excess of 400kg, with a nice degree of tail and shoulder fatness could be suitable for marketing prior to being housed, after a short period of meal supplementation.

A similar feeding protocol may also be implemented on farms operating steer systems, with the target of having steers weighing 490kg by mid-September before the introduction of concentrates.

If an adequate level of performance is achieved between mid-September and mid-November, these steers have the capacity to generate 275-280kg carcasses at 21 months without the need for indoor feeding, when grazing conditions allow. When selecting steers for this system, more extreme animals should be avoided and those with easier-fleshing abilities work best.

On the ground with Ciaran Bartley

Ciaran, a participant in Teagasc’s DairyBeef 500 Programme, purchases mainly Holstein Friesian males and carries them to beef between 21 and 24 months.

To help decide which animals are destined for a shed at 24 months or grass finish at 21 months, Ciaran handles all animals during the mid-season weighing. Any animal weighing in excess of 420kg at the mid-season point is considered for feeding. When narrowing down which animals to select, he aims for a ‘stockier’ type steer, not too extreme, with a level of tail fat present. The more extreme, taller bullocks are grazed and are finished out of the shed in February/March after a 100 day finishing period.

Ciaran completed a mid-season weighing on July 5 and at the point, his steers weight an average of 416kg, after gaining 1kg/head/day since turnout in mid-March. The steers destined for slaughter will be supplemented with approximately 3-4kg/head/day of concentrate for approximately 70 days and will be slaughtered prior to being housed.

As Ciaran’s farm is heavy in nature, these steers may have to be housed for a short period in October if grazing conditions deteriorate. However, to ensure that animal performance is maximised during this spell, surplus bales taken from grazing paddocks throughout the year are left to one side and offered to these animals once housed.

Last year, the Limerick native selected 43 steers for this production system and an average carcass weight of 278kg was achieved at 20.6 months, with marketing occurring between October 14 and November 18. In terms of carcass grading, 30% of last year’s Holstein Friesian steers graded O=, 49% were O- and 21% graded P.

Read more about the DairyBeef 500 programme here