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Young bull production - implementing tweaks to improve efficiency and profitability

Young bull production - implementing tweaks to improve efficiency and profitability

As the New Year starts, Future Beef Programme Advisor, Gabriel Trayers explains why it is a critical time in the lifetime of a young bull, while highlighting how Shane Keaveney has made tweaks to his system to improve efficiency and profitability.

Over in Roscommon, Shane Keaveney has 20 bulls that will soon be reaching 12 months of age. The target for Shane is to ensure that they weigh an average of 500kg on their first birthday.

Stage 1

In order to hit this target, the bulls must gain weight every day from the day they were born. Shane starts calving in February; all of his 37 cows calved in 10 weeks in 2023. Calving compactly is a must for a bull finisher, as all of the calves can be managed as one group.

The first target is that the cow rears a heavy weanling. The ICBF weaning performance report highlights that at 200 days of age, Shane’s bulls weighed 307kg or had gained 1.3kg/head/day since birth. A job well done by their mothers.

Table 1: Overview of weight performance of calves born in Shane Keaveney's farm

 Number weighedADG (kg)Avg. 200-day weight (kg)Target 200-day weight (kg)
Males 15 1.3 307 300
Females 21 1.18 279 250

Stage 2

Shane forward grazes the weanling bulls all through the grazing season. He introduced meal earlier in August at 1kg/head/day. He vaccinated with Bovipast prior to weaning and the animals were dosed for worms.

Keeping stress to a minimum is a key focus to ensure that the bulls suffer no set-backs. To optimise performance, the bull weanlings were weaned outdoors using Easy Wean nose pads, which worked very well for him.

The very wet end to 2023 did not suit the young bulls. To counteract this, Shane increased the meal to 3kg/head/day in September as grass was very wet. He also took the decision to house them altogether in early October. Weighing took place on October 6th and the group averaged 334kg, which was an average daily gain of 1.28/head/day – so far so good.

Stage 3

The bulls are housed on straw and have plenty of lying and feed space. In 2023, Shane sowed 1.5ha of a red clover and got three cuts of silage off this sward. The aim is to conserve a very high-quality silage, that would be fed to his priority stock over the first winter. The results of an analysis of this silage yielded very good readings, with the second cut summarised below:

  • 77% Dry Matter Digestibility (DMD);
  • 1% Crude Protein;
  • 5% Dry Matter.

Shane increased the meal to 5kg/head/day in November and will be steadily increasing the meal to a full ad-lib diet once the bulls hit 500kg in February.

Monitoring performance

Shane weighs the bulls on a monthly basis to monitor their performance. As mentioned earlier, the bulls need to gain weight on a daily basis, so having the correct feed and environment are critical in this regard.

All of these factors are in the control of Shane himself. Weighing is a tool that will identify any issues or if they are on track to reach that 500kg target at 12 months of age. If there is a dip in performance, he can quickly rectify it.

Table 2: Weighing performance of Shane Keaveney's bulls (avg. DOB of 19 February 2023)

Weighing dateAverage weight (kg)ADG from birth (kg)Days since last weighingGain (kg) since last weighingADG (kg) since last weighing 
28/08/2023 294 1.31 - - -
06/10/2023 334 1.26 39 40 1.03
04/11/2023 369 1.26 29 35 1.21
05/12/2023 416 1.28 31 47 1.51
04/01/2023 454 1.28 30 38 1.26

In the period from November 4th to December 5th, the bulls gained 1.51kg/head/day on the red clover silage plus 5kg of meal diet. This was right on target. However, there has been a dip performance over the last month. Shane puts this down to a virus, with some animals requiring treatment. He is confident that they are back on track again, but weighing in February will confirm.

Interestingly, the bulls are 44kg heavier this year than the same time last year. This is as a result of the changes implemented, such as pushing weanlings more and the inclusion of the red clover silage.

With the bulls averaging 454kg on January 4th, an average weight gain of 1.3kg/head/day from now until their average birthday of February 19th will be sufficient to ensure the bulls achieve the weight gain target of 500kg.

Shane has started to include 1kg/head/day of the finishing ration now to help the bulls transition to that ration, which will be fed ad-lib for the last 100 days.

Shane targets a 400kg carcass at a fat score of 2+ at slaughter before the bulls reach 16 months of age. This year, he will also select and pen separately 10 of the heavier bulls and put them on ad-lib earlier to reduce their age of slaughter. All small tweaks, but when combined they make a big difference in profitability and efficiency.

Gabriel Trayers is an advisor on Teagasc’s Future Beef Programme. For more information on the programme, its objectives and the farmers enrolled, click here.