This report is based on a lowland suckled beef herd production system. It will include the breed choice, sale weights, reproduction target, growth rates, feeding rations and common diseases effecting cattle.
Aberdeen Angus has been selected as they have many advantages such as good temperament, naturally polled and are known for easy calving minimising stress for the cows and the farmer. This breed is well known for the low cost production of good quality beef (Irishaberdeenangus.com, 2015). Another advantage of this breed is their ability to finish off grass. This difference makes Aberdeen Angus a popular breed choice as it allows farmers to maximise their profits due to grass being a cheap feed.
Expected breeding values (EBV'S)
Genetics influences the profitability of the herd; it is important that when selecting a bull for the herd you look at EBV's as they can pass desired traits onto the calves for use in future generations. When selecting a bull for this projected key traits were ease of calving, gestation length, milk attributes and two-hundred-day growth (Making Better Beef Breeding Decisions using EBVs, 2015). This project is based on a suckler herd that will have stock ready for slaughter around two hundred days old, it is essential that the mother is capable of producing good quantities of milk for the calf reducing the costs for the farmer. A Sussex bull has been selected for the Aberdeen angus herd as it is suitable for the traits that are desired.
There are many reproductive targets that need to be achieved for a beef herd. Such targets include compact calving where at least 80% of the cows have calved in 60 days. To achieve compact calving there should be a short interval between the period where a cow gives birth and then their first heat. This means that the cows should not receive AI or be served on their first heat, allowing contraception rates to greatly improve for heats later on. Cows should also have a suitable condition score and the bull needs to be fertile to improve compact calving. (Independent.ie, 2009). There are many benefits of having a compact calving such as achieving a simpler cow and calf management allowing for less labour needed at calving. There should be the aim of having one calf per year with a gestation period of 9 months. The average interval from calving to a cow's first heat is between 50-55 days.
Other reproductive targets are that each cow should have on average 5 to 6 calves throughout their lifetime, ideally this should be 365-day calving interval, farms should also be maximising their use of grazed grass minimising their costs and giving them a better chance at achieving a profit. (Aberdeen-angus.co.uk, 2015).
This production cycle is based on spring calving as there is good quality and relatively cheap grass available for the cows and their calves. This will in turn help to reduce the feed costs for the farm.
April: An MOT of the bull is carried out to ensure he is fertile and is healthy enough to be put in with the cows. The ideal Body Condition Score is 3 as they are not too heavy for the cows the bull will have to serve. An excessive Body Condition Score can reduce the bull's fertility and lead to feet problems (Beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk, 2015).
May: In the last week of May synchronisation will happen to ensure all cows come into heat around the same time. Synchronisation encourages a batch of females to start bulling together so that they can all be served together at the same time. This reduces labour and avoids the need of detecting the cow's heat.
June: Bull is introduced to the batch of cows that are showing signs of bulling. At this stage their Body Condition Score should be 3 to ensure they are strong enough to withstand the weight of the bull. Between June and July, the stock keeper should watch for any abortions and if so they must be separated from the main herd and an examination taken place to determine the cause.
July: Watch for any abortions and separate any cows from the main herd.
August: Some fields should be shut off from the herd now so that they can be used for deferred grazing. These fields are shut from mid-summer allowing grass to grow for winter feeding. ‘This can extend the grazing season into November and December' (Beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk, 2015). This will help the farm reduce their feeding cost throughout the winter as the herd will be kept out on grass.
November: The cows are put out onto the differed grazing fields, at this stage the cows will hopefully maintain their weight over the winter months as there should be good quality grass.
December and January: Cows still out on deferred grazing.
February: 6 weeks prior to calving the Body Condition Score should be 2.5-3. If it is too high, it can affect the quality of the colostrum having a knock on affect for the calf. It will also help to minimise any calving difficulties because any excessive feed is used to help develop the foetus, therefore excessive feed would make the foetus larger making calving difficult.
March: Compact calving begins and at this stage the grass is beginning to grow again ensuring there will be plenty of grass available to the herd throughout this period. Body Condition Score should be around 2.5-3 to ensure ease of calving and minimise problems. The aim is for compact calving to happen throughout March and have very few cows calving in the early weeks of April.After calving the reproduction cycle commences again.
July: From March to now the calf has remained with its mum. At this the stage the calves are roughly 4 months old and can be introduced to creep feeding. At 4 months old ‘half its requirements should be met by grass, silage, or creep feed, rather than milk' (Beefandlamb.ahdb.org.uk, 2015).
November: Weaning takes place as the calf is now 8 months old. At this age the calves should be getting a majority of its feed requirements from the environment and not from its mum's milk. This can be a stressful time for the calf so weaning should occur gradually.
Nutrition and Feed
Rearing is complete when the calves weigh 200kg and have been weaned off of milk. The next stage is growing and depending on the breed choice this can take up to 15 months. At this stage it is a continuous growth period with the aim of developing height and length of body frame. The next stage is finishing and this is a short period of weight gain with cattle maximise meat yield and developing fat.
During both the growing and finishing stages grass should be used for cattle as it is the cheapest feed available helping to reduce overall costs. Modern grass varieties should be used with the inclusion of clover in sward, this can have big yielding benefits and reduce the amount of nitrogen fertiliser required. Large framed cattle that are put on grass at 250-300kg should aim to put on about 200kg (Brown, Rumans and Vickers, 2008).
Finishing cattle on grass requires high levels of good quality grass that has to be maintained for as long as possible. This will require good grassland management to achieve this. Alternatively, cattle can be fed silage that is mature and has a long chop length. If fed in small amounts it can provide structural fibre keeping the rumen healthy when cattle are being fed concentrates (Brown, Rumans and Vickers, 2008).
Due to Aberdeen Angus cattle being able to finish off grass it allows the cattle to reach their target levels at lighter weights as grass helps to ensure they get leaner and not put on too much fat. Early maturing allows them to develop muscle and improve their conformation. When grass gets low these cattle can be supplemented with other feeds while still remaining out on grass. Such feeds can be good quality silage, straw, brewer's grains and molasses to make the ration palatable for the cattle. Choice of feeds depends on availability and current price for the feeds.
Prevention and treatment of parasites and diseases
During their first grazing system young livestock are more susceptible to getting parasites and diseases (liver fluke, ringworm). The presence of worms in cattle have a major impact as they can cause cattle to not meet their targets weights because the worms prevent cattle from utilising the nutrients
contained in their food. If left untreated this can cause death and serious disease (Taylor, 2011).
Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD): BVD is an infectious disease that can be passed from cattle to cattle. The main cause is that BVD is a virus that has remained in Persistently Infected (PI) animals. BVD can also develop into an acute form that can be temporarily remain as an infection. The acute is more severe and can often result in death in cattle.
To overcome BVD there are vaccinations available and advice can be sought from local vets on the best vaccination suited to the herd.
Symptoms of BVD in cattle can include salvation, fever, mouth and muzzle ulcers and severe diarrhoea with blood. Cattle that are in the early stages of pregnancy with BVD can experience problems such as abortion, weak/premature calves, low pregnancy rates and mummified calves.
Hypomagnesaemia: This is a common metabolic/feeding disease that can be found in older beef cattle and occasionally found in younger cattle. If it hasn't been detected and treated within hours, it can be fatal and result in death of the cattle affected. It can be caused by low blood magnesium levels and can be caused by deficiencies in grazed grass. Hypomagnesaemia can also be brought on by bad weather and handling can cause stress.
Symptoms of Hypomagnesaemia are cows found lying with their head back and thrashing wildly, cows can be quiet but when handling them they may have fits, unsteadiness, eye tremors and tremors above the shoulders.
To minimise this, cattle can be supplemented grass with barley straw, avoid using potassium fertilisers or feeding cattle concentrates that contain magnesium. Diagnosis of this disease can be done through blood sampling and treatment will be an intravenous injection and other injections that contain small amounts of magnesium.
Lungworm: Young cattle that are out for their first grazing are at risk of this disease along with autumn grazing conditions as it provides favourable conditions for the development of lungworm. Cattle develop lungworm by ingesting lungworm larvae when grazing. The larvae penetrate the intestinal wall and pass into the lungs through the lymphatic system and bloodstream. In the lungs the larvae grow and eggs develop and the mucus that is produced is swallowed and then excreted from the cow and back onto the pasture allowing for the cycle to begin again.
Signs of lungworm can be frequent coughing, panting and standing with neck bent gasping for breath.
Overtime cattle naturally develop an immunity for lungworm as they are often exposed to the disease. A vaccination can be given to cattle prior to their first grazing season. For the treatment of lungworm antibiotics may need to be given and a worming treatment would be necessary
Cattle will take up to 150 days to mature and according to Farmers weekly the Live weight price for finished steers is £1.81 per kg and finished heifers that will not be kept on for replacement of the main herd will be sold for £1.94 per kg. The amount of stock will depend on the land available, ideally for every acre there is one cow.
Cost of Production
Feed- grass (0.35p/day) £52.40
Vet. And medical bills £13
Transport and marketing £25
Fixed costs £30
Total £120.50 per cow
Live weight for steer (600kg X £1.05) £630
Cost to purchase mother(heifer) -£200
Cost of production -£120.50
Profit per steer £309.50
When comparing this Lowland system to the store system it is clear it will take longer for the cattle to reach their weights once they have been weaned compared to buying in cattle that already have been weaned. However, this system is still able to make a bigger profit than a store system, this can be highlighted using the EBLEX example for store cattle.
Selling live weight 650kg @ £1.12/kg
Feed @ o.70p/day £118
Vet and medical bills £8
Transport and marketing £25
Fixed costs @0.45p/day £76
Purchase for the stores £430 Need to sell for £480 to make £50 profit
(Better returns from buying and selling store cattle, 2007).
To conclude this system will make a profit if there is good grassland management to ensure there is a constant supply of good quality grass. Key dates need to be met to have compact calving as it will reduce labour costs and allows for calves to be easily grouped according to their age and weights once weaning occurs. It is essential to have a worming and parasite plan in place to minimise stock getting unhealthy. Any expenses throughout the cycle will reduce the profit that can be made when the cattle are sold.
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