At this time of year thoughts turn to bringing cattle in on to finishing diets and, while excellent management of finishing cattle cannot guarantee a profit, it is important to focus on nutrition, housing and health to maximise returns.
Kevin Doyle, GB technical sales manager with Phileo Lesaffre Animal Care, says: “What we are looking for is the highest liveweight gain from the least amount of feed while meeting target weight and carcase specifications.”
One of the difficulties associated with finishing rations is a challenge to rumen function, most often seen as sub-acute rumen acidosis (SARA) or even clinical acidosis.
“Sub-acute acidosis is not always obvious but can have serious consequences,” says Mr Doyle.
“It reduces fibre digestion and feed intake, reducing energy output from the rumen, which results in lower weight gain. It can also cause damage to the rumen papillae leading to poorer feed utilisation and ‘thrive’, which can be very difficult to reverse.”
A particular pinch point for SARA problems is the transition from grazing or high forage diets to a finishing diet high in starch and sugars, as this requires a change in the microbe population in the rumen from predominantly fibre digesters to mainly starch digesters, which does not happen overnight. A further pressure point comes when animals hit peak dry matter intake, typically around two months prior to slaughter.
“Many people see cattle stop gaining weight or even going backwards and this is clearly undesirable from a financial point of view. But there are simple protocols you can follow which will help prevent this occurring.”
· Loose or variable dung
· Soft, grey, foamy dung
· Gas bubbles in dung
· Reduced intakes and weight gain
· Excess grains and fibre in dung
· Poor rumination/cudding rates
· Abdominal kicking
· Rapid breathing
· Tail swishing in the absence of flies