“Calf to Beef” webinar highlights the need to optimise growth rates from birth to slaughter
All of the speakers who took part in KEENAN’s recent “Calf to Beef” webinar confirmed the absolute importance of giving calves the best possible start and maintaining this level of performance throughout the animals’ lifetime.
County Meath vet Frank O’Sullivan admitted that farmers buying calves had no control over the level of colostrum that the young animals received at birth — “but there is nothing to stop (farmers from) asking about the colostrum feeding practises followed on the farms they came from,” he said.
“It is possible to assess the level of colostrum that a young calf has received courtesy of a blood test,” O’Sullivan continued. “Unfortunately, surveys of animals analysed in this way confirm that up two thirds of them did not receive enough colostrum.”
O’Sullivan went on to point out that bought-in calves should not be subject to stress in the days following their arrival at a new farm.
“They need plenty of space, comfortable bedding and the time to acclimatise fully to their new surroundings,” he said. “Maintaining the highest standards of hygiene in calf sheds is crucial at all times. All visitors should be kept out of these facilities, as they represent very significant disease threats.”
O’ Sullivan also said that calves should be able to double their birth weight after eight weeks.
“This can be achieved by feeding 750 g of milk powder per day,” he said. “Milk should be re-constituted at a temperature of around 40 degrees Celsius and fed at a temperature of around 38 degrees Celsius. Feeding rates should be increased by up to 20% during periods of cold weather. This will allow calves to retain the required body temperature.”
According to O’Sullivan, the youngest calves within a shed should be fed first.
“A high-quality muesli or coarse calf starter should be offered to encourage rumen development form a very early age,” he explained. “The availability of fresh water is also crucially important in this regard, as is high-quality straw.”
Commenting on the various milk replacer options available in Ireland at the moment, O’Sullivan said that the protein contained therein should come from an animal source, adding, “The lactose content of the feed should be at least 45%”
While discussing the animal health challenges associated with the management of young calves, O’Sullivan highlighted the benefits of vaccinating animals against pneumonia between days seven and nine.
“This approach can give very effective, localised prevention against a number of respiratory challenges,” he said.
Richard Dudgeon, regional manager of Alltech Northern Ireland, discussed the benefits of including Actigen® in either calf milk or starter diets. Dudgeon explained that the product is derived from yeast cell walls and acts to preferentially remove dangerous bacteria from the growing calf’s gut.
“Scours account for 61% of all calf deaths in Ireland,” he said. “The equivalent figure for pneumonia is 25%. Actigen contributes to development of the young calf’s immune system. It also improves gut integrity, which helps deliver better feed conversion rates and daily growth rates.
“All of these benefits have been widely confirmed courtesy of numerous research trials,” he added.
Dudgeon went on to compare the action of Actigen with that of an antibiotic.
“Actigen can aid the excretion of bacteria that may be risk factors in the cause of disease, while beneficial bacteria found in the gut are left untouched,” he said. “In contrast, antibiotics will act to remove all bacteria, good and bad, that are found in the calf’s gut.”
During his presentation, independent nutritionist Gerry Giggins discussed the main principles enshrined within the KEENAN Calf to Beef program. He argued that calves from the dairy herd will become an increasingly important resource for the beef industry, adding that these animals must be finished in the shortest possible time so as to maximise their value to the farmer.
“These cattle must be achieving the highest-possible daily growth rates from birth to slaughter,” Giggins said. “Only in this way will carcase weights and quality meet processers’ specifications in full. Taking these animals through a store period is a total backwards step.”
As Giggins explained, the KEENAN Calf to Beef program has been designed to drive efficiency on-farm.
“This approach also helps to lower the carbon footprint of the business, so it is a win-win scenario for the farmer,” he said.
Giggins also highlighted the need to feed meals to weanlings during their first year at grass.
“Offering them a KEENAN MechFiber calf mix meets this requirement in a very effective way,” he explained. “Minimising the length of time required to finish cattle indoors following their second season at grass is another priority when it comes to maximising the margin that can be made from a calf-to-beef system.
“It should be possible to finish Hereford and Angus cross heifers within 70 days of housing,” Giggins continued. “This figure will be pushed out to 120 days for bullocks.
“In all cases,” Giggins concluded, “a bespoke KEENAN MechFiber ration will ensure that performance levels are maximised.”