Incorporating live yeast in the diet of beef cattle can offer benefits across a range of ages, says ForFarmers. Ann Hardy reports.
Brian Rutherford has learned a lot about rearing calves and finishing fat cattle over his 50 years in the business, and believes big improvements have been made since the early days, by both his calf suppliers and on his own 198-hectare (490- acre) family farm.
Farming at Pilmore Farm, at Old Cassop, near Durham, with his sons, Mark and Ian, he says the calves he buys are better reared than in years gone by as more producers understand the importance of colostrum and disease resistance, and getting the calves off to a good start.
“By the time I buy them – usually at over six weeks old – they should have got past the milk scour stage and be a lot easier to manage,” he says.
His own judgment in buying also plays an important part in the calves’ performance. He says: “I have bought for long enough to know what each man’s calves will do.
“I try to buy the stronger calves which can feed and are ready to go on and I don’t buy those that are full of milk as these tend to go back when you get them home.”
Buying stronger calves at the outset means they can go straight on to just creep feed and hay, although the very youngest will go into individual pens and have a little longer on milk.
All will be introduced to For- Farmers VitaStart calf pellets as these contain the live yeast, Levucell, which ForFarmers claims is specifically designed to stimulate the growth of fibre-digesting bacteria and help speed up the development of the calf’s rumen.
Optimising rumen development is said to be an important part of the calves’ digestive health and performance and Mr Rutherford is keen to exploit the young animals’ unparalleled growth potential.
A total of about 400 calves per year are brought into the system on a year-round basis – all originating from dairy herds and most being continental crosses. All bull calves are castrated soon after arrival and all will be moved as quickly as possible up to the next stage.
“We put them on to a rearer nut – Prime Beef Grower – at around 12 weeks old, and this also contains live yeast for rumen consistency,” says Mr Rutherford. This will help maintain the rumen at a stable pH and continue to help with the animals’ fibre digestion and feed conversion.
However, as the animals age, they move on to more farm-produced feeds which are blended into a total mixed ration. This initially includes grass silage, crimped wheat, a protein blend and a liquid feed although the older animals move on to more dried grain.
“These dairy cross bullocks won’t finish off silage so have to have a fair bit of corn to get fat,” he says.
John Telfer, account manager for ForFarmers, says this is the point at which the acidosis risk is at its greatest.
“Increasing the cereals as the animals get older always comes with the danger of acidosis,” he says. “So, continuing with Levucell at this stage as part of TMR will increase the rumen bugs, improve digestion, and stabilise the rumen pH, all of which will improve the feed conversion efficiency and lead to better weights.”
Mr Rutherford concurs he has been pleased with performance and health and that dairy crosses are finishing at deadweights of 360-430kg and mostly R grades plus a few Os and the occasional U.
In fact, he has been sufficiently pleased with the performance of his cattle after seven years on live yeast that he decided to introduce the product to his sheep.
Lambing 700 North Country Mules and selling 1,240 lambs he says: “We introduced the product on John Telfer’s recommendation and the lambs are definitely going away heavier and sharper than before.
“In the past two years their deadweights have been up by around 1kg and although it’s always difficult to say exactly the reason, I wouldn’t continue to use Levucell if I didn’t think it was worth it.”
KEEPING the microflora of the rumen and its pH stable are central to good rumen function and can have a significant effect on fibre digestion and daily liveweight gain.
This applies as much to the young animal, whose rumen is only just starting to develop, as to mature beef cattle, which are sometimes fed diets with a high cereal content which may have a tendency to create unfavourable acid conditions in the rumen.
“The symptoms of too much acid in the rumen are familiar to beef producers who may see tell-tale signs of acidosis – such as scouring and bloat – as well as general under-performance,” says Nick Berni, ruminant product manager with ForFarmers.
“That is why we recommend including live yeast in many types of ration and across the spectrum of ages, as it helps create the right environment in the rumen for the desirable microflora to function at their best which, in turn, helps maintain pH close to the optimum 6.2,” he says.
The benefits of feeding Levucell in creep feed for calves are particularly worthwhile, as the yeast helps with the break-down of feed and makes more nutrients available for absorption by the animal, but it will also help in the development of rumen papillae.
“This not only helps with rumen development in the younger animal, but it also helps achieve high feed conversion efficiency, which has the potential to be better in the younger animal than at any other time in its development,” he says.
Continuing to feed the yeast as the animal matures helps maintain pH close to the optimum while the product also performs the function of scavenging oxygen. This helps to maintain the anaerobic conditions of the rumen and assists in creating just the right environment for the desirable microflora to do their work.
“All of this is particularly important when cattle are consuming a ration which has the tendency to make rumen conditions acidic, which is why on farms like Brian Rutherford’s, where dairy cross cattle need to be fed cereals to meet performance targets, it pays to feed live yeast right the way through the beef production cycle,” he says.