The environment and the stress animals are exposed to can make a big difference on animal health and performance. Optimising conditions and minimising stressors can not only mean a quicker turnaround of animals, but reduces the waste of resources (time, money and labour).
Beef animals, depending on what phase of growth, can eat between 2-2.5% of their body weight in dry matter, so making sure that there is enough feed space is key to promoting dry matter intakes and therefore growth.
The quality of feed and ensuring requirements are met in conjunction with feeding for rumen health is important in promoting performance. If the rumen is in poor condition, animals will take longer to grow and finish which can ultimately add cost.
Often the forgotten nutrient, water is essential for health and productivity. Water should be fresh and access should be available 24/7 without the risk of bullying to ensure optimal intakes are achieved. Cattle require up to 75L per day (depending on growth phase, the ration fed and temperature) so ensuring the trough space and water flow meet requirements is key. Lactating cows require significantly more water due to the requirement for milk production.
It is also sensible to test water every now and again, particularly if it is from a borehole to mitigate any antagonists or highlight any potential issues which could limit performance.
Ensuring troughs are in good condition will also help from a hygiene point of view. Leaking troughs and fittings can lead to unwanted water build up in the pens, which can contribute to poor underfoot conditions which can lead to hoof health issues such as digital dermatitis. Not to mention the unnecessary cost of “wasted” water.
Air flow and ventilation is a common discussion point, with pneumonia and respiratory health being key associated diseases. According to MSD Animal Health, cost estimates of pneumonia vary between £43 per dairy calf and £82 per affected suckler calf. These costs rise significantly when re-treatments are required, not to mention the associated costs of poorer carcass quality and delayed finishing times.
Correct and adequate ventilation is one of the most important features to ensure efficient production and minimise health disorders.
If the shed design and location allow it, ventilation by the wind (of speeds more than 1m/s) will drive the air through gaps in the sidewalls, meaning stale air leaves the building on the opposite side. However, some sheds may require an outlet to promote a “stack effect”. Where the main determinants are stocking density per metre square and the slope of the roof. A steep pitch roof will always work better than a low pitch.
Look for cobwebs in buildings and condensation as these are signs of poor ventilation. Using smoke bombs can also be a useful tool in identifying air flow
and ventilation improvements.
Competent ventilation and drainage are key to good air hygiene. Hygiene in general supports health and welfare, from cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
which help remove biofilms (where pathogens survive), to ensuring dust is kept to a minimal to support respiratory health and air quality. It is important to remember that focal points for disease transmission are feeders and troughs, highlighting the importance in keeping these clean and maintained.
Lighting is another forgotten aspect which often goes unmentioned. Ensuring sufficient lighting that is evenly distributed (to avoid creating shadows) is important for efficient and safe working .
Day lengths of 16–18 hours of light at +170 lux, interspersed with 6-8 hours of darkness (less than 30 lux essential to maintain hormone balance), have been shown to increase liveweight gain, advance onset of puberty in heifers, and increase milk yield in cows.
Beef animals are ruminants and must be able to have “rest” to ruminate, ensuring lying areas are dry is key. Floor slope, surface and linkage to drains are all relevant cow comfort in addition to management of moisture within the building.
As previously mentioned, space is key for feeding, growing and lying which are all key aspects of animal health and performance. Below are typical Red Tractor Assurance Standards (V5, Nov 2021) for suckler cows and growing/finishing cattle and youngstock.
For further information on maximising your suckler herd, get in touch with your NWF Sales Specialist or click HERE to view our Beef Feeds & Associated Products.
By NWF Technical Co-Ordinator, Erin Wray