TIME4SHOW & SALE: Show Cattle Preparation Guide

Show cattle preparation guide

Show cattle preparation guide

Cattle show judges look for correct conformation, body condition and mobility in the ring. Making sure cattle are properly prepared will help to enhance positive attributes and strengthen any weak areas, improving the chance of a prize on show day or a higher price at sale.

Read our pre-show guide to ensure your cattle will be looking their best on the day:

Feeding

Supplying a balanced diet is key to creating a champion. However, it’s important to remember that feeding should achieve muscle growth and enhance development but not impact health.

To reduce health issues, cattle should be fed depending on their breed, age and type i.e., whether they’re breeding bulls or suckler cows.

If cattle are being reared for the show ring from birth, they should be switched from milk and calf pellets onto a slower growing mix to prevent them becoming too fat too quickly. At eight to nine months of age cattle should be moved onto a pre-show ration.

If older cattle are being readied for showing, they will need to be fed a pre-show ration three to four months before the show date.

If you need more advice on how to ensure cattle are in the best condition for the showring, speak to your local Carr’s Billington’s on-farm specialist who will take the following into account:

  • Forage analysis and availability
  • Animal targets and farm focus
  • Input costs

Our team will be able to suggest the most suitable, ready prepared coarse mixes, such as the Supreme show mix, or explain more about custom mixes and blends.  

Top feeding tips:

  • Slower digested starch sources including rolled oats, barley and maize products and quality digestible fibre sources, such as sugar beet pulp, aid development and provide energy without digestive upsets
  • Adding linseed into the diet can improve coat shine
  • Biotin and zinc can also help enhance skin, hair and hoof quality
  • Consider using a live yeast, such as Actisaf®, to help stabilise the rumen pH, maximising feed utilisation and efficient digestion

Washing, clipping and feet checks

Washing and clipping are also important preparatory steps that should be taken before any show or sale.

One month ahead of show day

Show cattle should initially be washed at least four weeks before a show using shampoo and warm water to make clipping the coat easier. Once this has been done, clip away any remaining winter coat and begin training the top line hair to make it easier to manage nearer the show date.

Check feet condition at this point too. Foot problems may hinder the way the cow moves which will bring your score down while in the ring. Catching any problems early will ensure enough time to get them rectified.

A week before show day

Cattle should be washed, blow dried and clipped again up to a week before the show to allow enough time for the hair to grow out and highlight any areas that need last minute adjustments.

Blow-drying a cow after washing will dry them off and make the hair stand up for easier and more accurate clipping.

Clipping is used to improve the overall appearance of the cow, and the general idea is to make heifers look more ‘feminine’ and bulls more ‘masculine’.

Top clipping tips:

  • Clipping the shoulder tighter and leaving a longer top line will help heifers look more feminine
  • Start with the tail, then move to the chest, brisket and navel, sheath, top of the neck and onto the forarm/shoulder. After this move onto the belly/side wall before focussing on the back legs, hind quarters and upper hip. Finish with the top line and top of the tail followed by the head and neck
  • Lubricate the clipper blade around every 30 seconds to keep them sharper for longer and prevent them overheating

On show day

Make sure you leave plenty of time for final cleaning and clipping on the day of the show and don’t forget to take the following final steps just before heading into the ring:

  • Increase the tail volume by backcombing the hair and set it with hairspray
  • Use black and/or white spray to touch up any blemishes
  • Run a soft bristle brush over the coat for a last time to remove any flecks of straw or dust
  • Spray the coat with a final mist spray to increase shine

Below is a handy checklist of show cattle supplies to help you get show ready:

  • Shampoo
  • Clippers
  • Blade lubricant
  • Blow dryer
  • Brushes and combs
  • White coat
  • Feeders and waters
  • Halters, lead ropes and sticks
  • Feed and supplements
  • Hair products including hair, white, black and final mist sprays
  • Suitable livestock handling footwear

If you are short of any show supplies, make sure you drop by one of your local Carr’s Billington stores, where we have all of the essentials in stock.

Time 2 Strike: Preventing Blowfly Strike In Sheep This Summer

preventing-fly-strike

How to prevent fly strike in sheep

Fly strike in sheep is predicted to cost the farming industry £2.2m a year1, with almost all farmers suffering some financial loss from the condition2. As we head into prime fly strike season, we outline what you can be doing to prevent the condition in your flock this summer.

What is fly strike?

Blowfly strike is a serious and costly disease of sheep that affects more than 80% of farms in the UK each summer. 

It’s caused primarily by the green bottle fly, Lucilia sericata, which lays its eggs in decomposing matter such as dirty backends, footrot lesions and open wounds. The physical damage is then caused by the larvae (maggots). Other flies can also cause strike, including blue bottles and black bottles. 

Once fly populations take hold, they can be hard to manage due to the speed of the blowfly lifecycle, which can be completed in as little as two weeks (figure 1, NADIS). 

On-farm losses from Blowfly strike are incurred from:

  • Poor welfare
  • Loss in productivity (weight loss and decreased milk yield)
  • Fleece damage
  • Death
  • Treatment costs; including product, labour and time
blowfly lifecycle

Figure 1: Blowfly lifecycle (Source, NADIS)

Common signs of Blowfly strike in sheep

Blowfly strike can occur rapidly, often taking sheep farmers by surprise. If an infestation is missed, it can cause intense suffering and even death and is a major welfare and economic concern. 

The main signs of a blowfly infestation include:

  • Isolation from the flock
  • Discoloured wool
  • Agitation and kicking or nibbling at the affected area
  • Disturbed grazing
  • Tissue decay
  • Toxaemia
  • Death

The severity of a Blowfly strike infestation can vary, starting with lesions on a small area of skin with just a few maggots, spreading to extensive areas of skin. However, a small infestation can rapidly increase due to the short lifecycle of the Blowfly. 

The most common areas affected are the backends of sheep. However, the withers, head, back and shoulders can also be affected. 

It is a legal requirement for all sheep keepers to check their stock daily when sheep are at risk of strike (NADIS). This is due to the rapid nature in which symptoms can develop. 

Treatment options for fly strike

Sheep affected by Blowfly strike will need immediate attention by removing the maggots, cleaning the wound and, depending on the severity, using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. It’s essential to involve your vet in the treatment. 

Plunge dipping using organophosphates can also be conducted, although the correct administration and disposal of the product are necessary. 

How to prevent Blowfly strike  

Prevention of Blowfly strike should be included in every farm health plan.  

Most fly-related diseases can be prevented by good hygiene and early use of fly control products. Each product has different active ingredients, control periods and withdrawal times. It’s important producers discuss insect control options with their vet or qualified on-farm adviser to find the product most suited to their flock.

The Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep (SCOPS) has produced a list of available preventative treatments. This can be downloaded here.

There are additional management practices producers can implement to help prevent Blowfly strike. These include (NADIS): 

  • Shearing ewes before the onset of the high-risk period
  • Control of parasitic gastroenteritis caused by roundworms in lambs to reduce diarrhoea and, therefore, faecal contamination of the fleece
  • Dagging or crutching of fleece around the tail area to reduce fleece soiling
  • Dipping or use of pour-on chemical formulations to prevent strike or inhibit larval growth
  • Correct disposal of carcases to minimise suitable areas for flies to lay eggs
  • Ensure all wounds and footrot lesions are treated promptly
  • Trapping flies to help reduce overall fly populations – this must be used in conjunction with other control methods. 
  • Using the NADIS blowfly alert to identify the periods of highest risk and take preventative action
  • Examining the flock regularly during at-risk periods – twice a day checks are recommended to identify signs of strike or when there is an increased presence of flies

How can your local Carr’s Billington help? 

At Carr’s Billington, we have dedicated in-store Responsible Animal Medicines Advisers (RAMAs) knowledgeable in fly prevention and treatment. Come and speak to a member of the team today and find out how we can help prevent this costly disease in your flock this summer.  

We stock a wide range of products for the prevention and treatment of blowfly strike, including:

  • CLiK
  • CLiK Extra
  • CLiKZiN
  • Crovect
  • Ectofly
  • Deltafort
  • Dysect
  • Spot-On

How To Prevent Heat Stress In Dairy Cows And Calves

heat stress blog

Heat stress in dairy cattle and youngstock is a severe issue affecting productivity, health, fertility, and welfare. And with temperature and humidity levels continuing to rise in the UK, it’s a problem more farmers will already be facing or likely to face in their herds. In this blog, we look at how it can affect stock, symptoms to look out for, and how to prevent it to stay a step ahead.

Cattle are sensitive to factors which impact their thermal exchange with the environment. These factors include:

  • Air temperature
  • Radiant temperature
  • Air velocity 
  • Relative humidity

Heat stress occurs when cows and calves generate and absorb more heat than they can get rid of by respiration, sweating, and air blowing by them. This leads to increased respiration rates, body temperatures, sweating, and time standing and is a significant welfare concern.

Air and radiant temperature directly influence the heat exchange ability of the animal. Air velocity increases the amount of heat transfer from the surface of the cow whilst air movement can also improve evaporation, which assists in heat loss. However, humidity can decrease the heat exchange and have debilitating effects on the cow.

heat stress blog

 

When does heat stress occur? 

Dairy cows are most comfortable (thermoneutral zone) when temperatures are between -15°C (Lower Critical Temperature (LCT)) to +25°C (Upper Critical Temperature (UCT)). However, humidity plays a significant part because, as the relative humidity increases, the temperature at which a dairy cow exhibits signs of heat stress falls.

Cows begin to experience heat stress at much lower temperatures than humans. This will depend on the animal’s age, production, and humidity. Generally, mild heat stress in cows starts around 22°C with 50% humidity, though high-yielding cows are more susceptible to heat stress as they eat more and generate more heat. They can begin to experience heat stress in well-ventilated sheds at air temperatures as low as 18°C.

Calves will likely start to feel the effects of heat stress at 21⁰C. Above this, they will have to use additional energy to maintain a normal body temperature of 38 – 39°C.

Using the Temperature Humidity Index (THI), it’s possible to determine whether your cows/ calves are at risk of heat stress. THI considers both temperature and humidity to estimate the level of heat stress cows will experience based on environmental conditions.

Cow Plan has developed a nifty calculator to generate real-time THI https://www.cowplan.com/thi .

Table 1 highlights when cows may be heat stressed based on THI.

Heat stress level Temperature humidity index (THI) Respiration (breaths per minute) Body temperature (centigrade)
No heat stress Less than 68 40-60 38.6-39.1
Mild 68-71 60-75 39.1-39.4
Mild to moderate 72-79 75-85 39.4-40
Moderate to severe 80-90 85-100 40-40.5
Severe 90-99 100-104 Over 40.5

Signs of heat stress

When a cow’s temperature exceeds the UCT, they have two main ways to maintain their thermal balance:

  1. Increasing heat dispersion– evaporation through panting, drooling, and increased subcutaneous blood flow.
  2. Limiting heat production– by reducing activity and decreasing her appetite.

Cows that are heat stressed will have reduced production, fertility, and health issues. Research suggests mild to moderate heat stress can reduce yields by 2.6L a cow a day and moderate to severe by almost 4L a day.

Heat stress can also affect fertility and embryo development. For example, according to one study in the Journal of Dairy Science1, cows subjected to heat stress were 63% less likely to get pregnant than those not.

Early growing embryos are also likely to die within the first three days of fertilisation from prolonged periods of heat stress. Heat detection also becomes more difficult due to a cow’s or heifer’s lack of activity or movement.

Calf production can also be severely impacted by heat stress. Youngstock can experience poor growth rates from reduced feed intakes and lethargy, which can cause strain on metabolic processes in the body and increase the risk of disease/illness.

Signs of heat stress in cows and calves include:

  • High respiratory rates (normal = 30-60 bpm for calves/ 40-60 bpm for cows)
  • Dehydration
  • Reduced feed intakes
  • Open-mouthed panting
  • Increased water consumption
  • Sweaty coats
  • Higher rectal body temperatures
  • Calves lying flat out/lethargic
  • Poor growth rates in growing heifers
  • Smaller breeding size
  • Poor fertility
  • Coughing/health problems
  • Reduced milk production
  • Rumination problems/acidosis

 

9 steps to managing heat stress 

Heat stress can be managed by simple system changes, including:

  1. Monitoring shed temperatures daily – use a min/max thermometer and record temperature fluctuations. Recording humidity is also beneficial to calculate THI.
  2. Adjusting the diet – when feed intakes reduce due to heat stress, the nutrient concentration should be increased to maintain the equivalent nutritional level of the diet. This can be done by increasing the energy density, using high-quality forages and feeding more concentrates. However, care should be taken to balance diets properly to avoid digestive disorders such as acidosis and displaced abomasums.
  3. Changing feeding times – encourage higher intakes by feeding 60-70% of your herd’s diet between 8pm and 8am – the coolest part of the day.
  4. Provision of water –water intakes can increase by 10-20% in hot weather, so it’s essential that yards, buildings, grazing areas, and dispersal areas are well supplied with clean and fresh water. When cows are out in the field, consider adding additional troughs as their activity is reduced. Cows can consume 100L a day in hot weather2.
  5. Assessing air flow – by using smoke bombs. If the flow is inadequate, consider adjusting the ventilation by installing an open/protected ridge in the roof and increasing the number of air inlets. Mechanical interventions such as fans and/or sprinklers can also help. Airflows as low as 10km/hour can reduce respiration rates in heat-stressed animals by as much as 50%.
  6. Reduce sun exposure and improve airflow – look at opening inlets and outlets, prevent hot spots under sunlights, and consider mechanical ventilation, if necessary
  7. Handling – ensure any handling or routine work is carried out in the coolest part of the day
  8. Stocking rates – if possible, consider reducing stocking rates in the shed
  9. Increasing milk intakes – for calves, consider increasing milk by 0.5-1L per day

References

  1. -K. Schüller, O. Burfeind, W. Heuwieser,Effect of short- and long-term heat stress on the conception risk of dairy cows under natural service and artificial insemination breeding programs, Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 99, Issue 4, 2016, Pages 2996-3002.
  2. BCVA

TIME4TLC – Managing nematodirus in lambs

TIME4TLC – Managing nematodirus in lambs

Nematodirus is a disease caused by gastrointestinal worms which young lambs ingest through grazing, particularly on pasture grazed by young lambs the previous year. It can cause a high number of deaths within a matter of hours and poor growth rates.

This Q&A guide offers answers to common questions surrounding this disease including how to prevent it, how to quickly spot affected lambs, and how to treat them effectively.

What age are lambs most at risk of nematodirus?

Six to twelve week old lambs are most likely to be affected as they are likely to be eating enough grass that could be infected with the worm larvae to put them at risk.

Younger lambs can also be affected if they’re not receiving enough milk which causes them to start grazing earlier, for example, triplets. Those with a weakened immune system, or already presented with other challenges such as coccidiosis, are also more at risk of succumbing to the disease.

From three months-old, lambs are less likely to be affected when they ingest significant numbers of larvae.

Managing nematodirus in lambs

What time of year is nematodirus an issue?

A sudden cold snap that’s followed by a period of warm weather (10°C or higher) can trigger a mass hatch of eggs into larvae that are ingested by the lambs, causing their likelihood of exposure to significantly increase. Lambs are therefore most at risk of becoming infected between April and June due to the colder nights and warmer days that typically occur.

Although generally more of an issue in spring, unpredictable weather patterns experienced in recent years have caused nematodirus challenges to occur as early as February.

What are the signs of nematodirus?

 Knowing the symptoms of affected lambs will ensure prompt treatment can be administered quickly. These signs include:

  • Sudden onset of profuse diarrhoea
  • Dark or black faeces
  • Dull lambs
  • Lambs that stop sucking
  • Loss of body condition
  • Dehydration

How should I prevent nematodirus?

Prevention is better than cure because nematodirus strikes quickly. Faecal egg counts aren’t an effective preventative method because the damage is caused by larvae that don’t produce eggs, however, knowing the signs and taking the following steps will help to reduce the impact of nematodirus:

  • Where possible avoid grazing lambs in fields that were grazed by lambs the previous spring
  • Nematodirus risk varies year on year so keep an eye on the SCOPS nematodirus forecast to predict the likelihood of your flock being affected and for recommended treatment decisions to help reduce the risk of wormer resistance. This useful tool takes data from weather stations across the UK to provide updates on the disease risk level across the UK based on the predicted hatch-date of eggs into larvae
  • Don’t forget your on-farm or in-store specialist can help provide guidance on how to prevent nematodirus, so make sure you get in touch if required

How should I treat nematodirus?

 An effective parasite treatment strategy should be part of a flock health plan that should be put in place by a vet as a priority, and will help to make sure nematodirus is treated at the right time, using the right product.

Taking the following steps when managing nematodirus will also help to prevent wormer resistance, one of the biggest health risks to UK sheep farming at the moment[1]:

  • If just one lamb shows symptoms of nematodirus, treat every lamb within the group as quickly as possible using a white (1-BZ) drench
  • It’s extremely important to dose for the correct weight of the lamb – follow the product guidance for correct dosing measures
  • Conduct a faecal egg count seven to ten days after the drench is administered to ensure treatment is effective. Ensure all groups of lambs are tested separately because the level of infestation will vary between fields. Interpretation of the FEC is complex, so it’s best to discuss this and any next steps with your vet
  • Severely affected lambs may require further treatment which your vet will be able to advise on
  • Consult your vet if you’re unsure as to how to treat lambs

[1] Layout 1 (xlvets.co.uk)

TIME4RATIONING – Rationing advice for spring calving suckler cows

Rationing advice for spring calving suckler cows

It’s essential that spring calving suckler cows are fed balanced diets to maintain tight calving patterns and improve the chances of calving success, which in turn impact herd profitability.

Working out daily feed requirements will help ensure target body condition scores (BCS) are met to optimise cow health and fertility, as well as improve feed efficiency.

Read on to learn what these target BCS are and how to ensure herd energy and mineral requirements are met.

Target body condition scores

Condition score for spring calvers (QMS 2020)

Condition score for spring calvers

Ideally, suckler cows should be calving and bulling at a target BCS of 2.5 to help reduce the incidence of calving difficulties while promoting positive calving intervals. If cows are overweight at calving the assisted calving rate is more likely to increase. There is evidence to suggest that cows with a BCS of 3.5 typically have an assisted calving rate around double that of cows with a BCS of 2.5.

Aim to get pre-calving suckler cows to the correct condition score during mid-pregnancy by grouping cows with a similar BCS and feeding accordingly. Be aware that increasing the amount of energy in late pregnancy to achieve the target BCS can reduce calf vigour at birth.

Heifers and second time calvers are often the leanest cows on-farm so they, along with shy feeders, will need to be monitored more closely to make sure they reach the target pre-calving condition score.

Energy requirements

Autumn calvers require significantly more energy than spring calving beef cattle to maintain body condition while lactating throughout the colder winter months.

The energy requirements for a spring calver per day are 10% of their body weight plus 10MJ. In addition, dry matter requirements are 2% of total body weight. For example, a 600kg suckler cow would require 70MJ/energy and 12kg of dry matter per day.

It’s worth noting that genetics impact the amount of energy required to achieve target pre-calving condition scores. For example, cows put to a Charolais are likely to require more energy than those put to an Aberdeen Angus because larger breeds typically produce larger calves, meaning the cow will require more energy during pregnancy to sustain calf growth.

Generally, suckler cow energy requirements will be met through feeding forage alone and, unless cows are fed straw or have straw mixed into their diets, it’s advised to avoid feeding large amounts of concentrates.

If cows are fed a straw-based diet, aim to feed a good quality concentrate that contains 18% protein such as Lifetime Rearer or Unigold nuts. Bespoke blends can also be created by your local on-farm specialist, and also consider adding molasses to straw to encourage intakes.

Freshly calved cows will require double the energy needed by a dry cow for milk production and to promote recovery after birth. Energy is the key to ovulation and keeping a tight calving pattern, so ensuring the correct energy levels are fed during early lactation will also promote optimum fertility.

Mineral requirements

Mineral requirements

The mineral requirements of pre-and post-calving suckler cows are often overlooked, yet it is crucial the correct levels are fed to promote cow and calf health.

Consider conducting forage mineral analysis and then taking blood tests at least six weeks before calving to pinpoint any deficiencies in the following minerals:

Essential suckler cow minerals[1]

Mineral Impact Solution
Iodine Cows that are deficient in iodine in the last four to five weeks pre-calving are more likely to have weaker calves. Consider bolusing six weeks pre-calving with a high iodine bolus to be sure requirements are met. For pregnant and lactating stock this is 0.5Mg/kg DM.
Selenium A lack of selenium can cause white muscle disease in calves and retained cleansing in cows. Selenium can be administered via a bolus. For pregnant and lactating stock, the recommended level is 0.1Mg/kg DM.
Magnesium Magnesium deficiencies can increase the risk of staggers or hypomagnesaemia post-calving. Pregnant cows require 0.12% of total ration DM while lactating cows require 0.20% of total ration DM. Consider feeding magnesium rolls to achieve this.

Providing supplementary pre-and post-calving mineral blocks such as Vitalyx super suckler or Megastart pre-calver is another option to make sure suckler cow mineral requirements are met. Megastart contains Safmannan®  which will help to increase the immunoglobulins in the colostrum by around 25% which will help to improve calf health.

If you require further advice, consider discussing historical issues with cow health around calving with a local on-farm specialist.

[1] How to manage minerals in suckler cows pre-calving – Farmers Weekly (fwi.co.uk)

TIME4SILAGING – Top Tips On Making Quality Silage

Top tips on making quality silage

With the cost of bought-in feed soaring, homegrown silage is an obvious choice to reduce reliance on purchased feedstock to meet target milk yields. However, it’s essential that the silage quality is optimised through multiple factors including calculated fertiliser use and considered cut timings. Make sure you’re informed ahead of this silage season by reading our top tips below:

Use soil analysis to inform inputs

To optimise grass growth and quality, it’s recommended that soil nutrient tests are carried out and analysed before adding inputs to silage fields.

Soil pH and lime status affect how well nitrogen is utilised by the sward so the results can be used to make sure the right input is applied at the right time.

Nitrogen application needs to correlate with the timing of the first cut and with subsequent cuts during the season. Aim to apply nitrogen at least 50 days before the expected cutting time to ensure full crop utilisation. It should also be applied at a rate that is adequate for grass growth but not so high that it’s wasted. Bear in mind that grass silage will take up to an average of 2.5kg/ha/day.

Pre-cut grass testing is key

 Due to variations in weather and growing conditions year on year and regionally, it’s important not to base cutting decisions solely on the previous year’s harvest date. Instead, take weekly grass samples, starting around three weeks before the grass is expected to be ready.

Grass sample reports will provide details of the nutrient composition of swards, specifically:

  • Neutral detergent fibre (NDF)
  • Dry matter (DM)
  • Free nitrate levels
  • Protein levels
  • Sugar content

Taking samples at least every week will indicate how the levels change which will inform the optimum cutting time to maximise forage quality and fibre digestibility. Pre-cut testing should continue to be carried out until at least the third cut to determine the cutting time.

Farmers in Cumbria can keep an eye on the weekly grass monitor reports posted on our social media channels for an overview of how the grass is changing throughout the silage season, which will also help to inform decision making.

 On-farm specialists can take samples and send them for laboratory analysis, or they can provide bags for samples to be taken. Check out our video below on how to take a grass sample:

Critical cut timings

Milder weather over winter or in early spring can bring the optimum first cutting date forward and conversely, colder weather conditions can delay it. Decisions on when to cut grass for silage should continue to be guided by pre-cut sampling results.

Silage should be cut when the NDF is between 38% and 42%. A rise in NDF of around 5% above target level can lead to a reduction in metabolisable energy (ME) of up to 1.6 MJ per Kg/DM in the silage.

If grass is cut at the optimal NDF level, energy levels in the silage will typically be higher, which will reduce the amount of bought-in feed required to meet energy requirements for milk production. The correct NDF level is also needed for good rumen function as levels exceeding the target can slow digestion and reduce intakes, impacting milk yields.

Pre-cut grass testing targets[1][2]

Parameter Target
Sugars (%) Minimum 3% in fresh weight (10% in DM)
Free nitrates (DM) >1,000mg/kg in fresh weight
NDF (% DM) 38-42%
DM (%) 18% at mowing

30% for clamping

35-45% for baling

[1] Take control of silage quality by pre-cut grass testing | Lallemand (lallemandanimalnutrition.com)

[2] 4 tips to get timing of grass silage cutting right – Farmers Weekly (fwi.co.uk)

Top tip:  If the free nitrate level is too high then, even if the NDF has reached the right stage for cutting, hold off cutting for a short while to avoid a negative impact on the fermentation process.

Consider the number of cuts

The number of cuts is very specific to each farm and its aim for quality and yield, so a multi-cut system may not be suitable for all farms. Think about the farms’ overall objectives, milk contract, silage plan, field locations and length of ley when considering how many cuts to take.

It can be tricky to get the nutrient balance right throughout the season but keep in mind that silage making and fertiliser programmes should always match the grass varieties on-farm and the desired number of cuts.

If you require assistance before or during silaging this year, contact your local on-farm specialist.

The Benefits Of Alfalfa For Livestock Species

The benefits of alfalfa for livestock species

Alfalfa is a commonly used ingredient in feeds for a wide variety of species including livestock, horses and pets such as rabbits. Whilst Dengie specialise in equine nutrition, their alfalfa based feeds are widely used for other livestock species. Here they share some of the key benefits of using alfalfa for other animals.

Alfalfa for Chickens

There are various ways that alfalfa can be of benefit to chickens. Highly compressed bales are used in commercial situations for hens to peck at to help alleviate stress. Any alfalfa they consume provides fibre for digestive health as well as a source of bio-available minerals.

Alfalfa is also used as a natural colourant in feeds for chickens to help create darker orange yolks. In studies using a concentrated alfalfa extract fed to hens, there was found to be 7 times more carotene in the eggs compared to those not supplemented with the extract.

Age takes its toll on the health of the chicken’s digestive tract. Increasing amounts of damage and the effects of high starch diets reduce the size of the villi and so reduce absorption rates of minerals and other nutrients. The demand for volatile fatty acids for the repair of the intestinal wall increases leaving less available to repair other areas such as the liver cells. These factors adversely affect the production of eggs and egg shell formation. It is therefore advisable to ensure sufficient fibre is included in the chicken’s diet. Although the oil content of alfalfa is low, what it does contain is higher in omega 3 than omega 6 which is in direct contrast to cereals. Alfalfa is often included to help improve the overall omega 3 profile of layers feeds.

Alfalfa for Dairy Cows

A recently published study showed that even pasture fed cows are short of beta carotene at some points in the breeding cycle. Researchers measured vitamin E and beta-carotene status of dairy cows from Belgium, Germany, Iberia and The Netherlands. These countries were selected to reflect differences in climate, forage type and feeding systems. The Netherlands was chosen because of the proportion of grazing dairy farms with high milk yield. Germany was selected as total mixed rations are commonly used there and Iberia was chosen because of its hotter climate, different forage bases, and a blend of non-grazing and grazing systems

Of all sampled cows, 44% were deficient in beta-carotene, meaning that their blood concentration was below 3.5 mg/l; the minimum recommended. Beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant for oocyte cells, while vitamin A which is produced from beta carotene, influences follicle development. The study showed that the 4 weeks around calving seemed to be a critical period for dairy cows to maintain their beta-carotene blood levels to support their health.

Poor forages which are a particular issue in hotter, drier climates such as Spain, had much lower levels of beta carotene and that was reflected in the cow’s status too. This principle can be applied to poor quality forages in the UK generally but even more so if longer periods of drier weather are experienced in the summer months such as happened in 2018. Although the beta carotene content of forage varies greatly due to numerous factors, green leafy materials such as alfalfa contain a lot more beta-carotene than alternatives such as cereals. This study provides the rationale for the inclusion of alfalfa in the rations of dairy cows at key times for those kept at pasture but more routinely for those off grass or on predominantly cereal based rations.

 Alfalfa for Sheep

When sheep are kept on smallholdings they are usually produced extensively for slow-grown meat with better taste and nutrition or to produce wool. Breeders may also be preparing their stock for showing or to sell as breeding stock and so often have pedigree or rare breeds. With all of these scenarios, putting better quality feedstuffs in, means getting more out.

Alfalfa for meat quality

Studies have shown that animals reared on forages such as alfalfa have better fatty acid profiles in their meat. This is because cereals are higher in omega 6 whereas forages contain a higher ratio of omega 3. It should be noted that forages are not high in oil but what they do contain is better quality than in cereals. When we consume the meat from animals reared on forage-based systems, we are getting the benefits of more omega 3 in our diets.

Alfalfa for wool and hoof quality 

Tissues such as wool and hoof horn contain keratin which is made up of amino acids or protein. Alfalfa is abundant in amino acids and is also a great source of highly bioavailable minerals such as calcium and sulphur which are known to help create strong hoof tissue. Whilst finer wool is produced from sheep in nutritionally deprived areas, too little nutrition can cause serious health issues and so it is important to strike a balance. Feeding sufficient but not too much is key.

How to include alfalfa in the ration 

250 grams per head per day will help to provide quality protein and other essential nutrients and is a practical level to feed to most sheep. If it is used to replace some of the cereal based feeds it also helps to reduce the risk of acidosis. When forage quality is poor, pregnant ewes are at greater risk of twin lamb disease and so adding up to 0.5kg per head per day to the ration can be beneficial. When ewes are heavily pregnant they can start to eat less as the lambs take up more space. Making every mouthful count helps to ensure nutrient requirements are met and so using better quality forages such as alfalfa becomes even more important. Adding some alfalfa 2 to 3 weeks before birth is usually beneficial.

Alfalfa is abundant in calcium and ewe’s milk is higher in calcium than cow’s milk. Supplying calcium in the ration is important to ensure the ewe doesn’t deplete her own reserves in order to pass the calcium on in her milk. Adding 0.25 to 0.5kg per head per day to milking sheep is our recommendation.

Alfalfa for Goats

Using higher quality forages that can contribute towards the animals’s fibre requirement and provide energy, protein and micro nutrients at the same time means less reliance on cereals which can help to keep costs down. There are other benefits for the health of the digestive tract too as it creates a less acidic rumen helping to maintain an environment in which microorganisms can flourish. This faciliates efficient fibre digestion and an healthy immune process.

Alfalfa is naturally abundant in calcium at about 1.5% as fed. A number of factors can increase a goats calcium requirement including genetic selection for faster growth rates and higher milk production and rapidly growing pasture that results in diluted calcium levels in the grass. Using straight cereals that are energy dense but low in calcium can disrupt the calcium to phosphorous ratios in the total diet if additional calcium isn’t provided. The source of calcium is also important as inorganic mineral sources such as limestone are less bioavailable than plant sources.

A mature dairy doe of 50kgs bodyweight yielding up to 1.5kgs approx would require 6g of calcium per day and a crude protein of about 190g per day. 1kgs of Alfalfa would provide 15g calcium and 140g of protein.

Vitamin D is closely connected to calcium status in the goat as it facilitates calcium absorption across the intestine wall. Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is formed by ultraviolet irradiation of plant material or the animal’s skin. You may already be aware that barn kept animals require supplemental vitamin D but if alternative forages such as straw are making a greater contribution to the animal’s requirements for fibre, the vitamin D intake is likely to be lower as straw contains less vitamin D than alfalfa or grass forages. Just adding some alfalfa to the ration will increase vitamin D intake.

Alfalfa for the Alpaca

There are similarities between the digestive system of the alpaca and the ruminant including the ability to eructate and chew the cud. However, the alpaca stomach only has three compartments compared to four in ruminants, which means that alpacas are often classed as pseudo-ruminants.

The first two compartments are basically fermentation chambers where simple carbohydrates such as sugars and starch and more complex carbohydrates such as fibre are broken down by a microbial population to produce volatile fatty acids (VFAs) which can be used as an energy source by the host animal. In contrast to ruminants, the first compartment of the stomach is not lined with papillae but with gastric pits that produce digestive enzymes and buffers to aid microbial fermentation. The third compartment, also referred to as the true stomach, is where enzymes and acids are produced for digestion of feed.

Fibre is fermented relatively slowly with highly lignified (woody) feeds such as straw, taking several days to break down. In contrast, sugars and starch are fermented very rapidly resulting in a sudden increase in VFAs, which increases the acidity in the stomach. This is known as acidosis and can impair the efficiency of, or kill certain beneficial bacteria in the stomach. The effect of this on the alpaca can be very serious ranging from loss of appetite to diarrhoea and in severe cases death.

The nutrient requirements for camelids including alpacas are largely unknown as limited research has been conducted. Most estimates are based on extrapolations for the nutrient requirements of ruminants particularly goats and sheep. Alpacas weigh between 45kg-80kg and can consume between 1.8%-2% dry matter of their bodyweight daily. For an alpaca that weighs 63kg this would equate to between 1.13kg-1.26kg dry matter daily. Alpacas have evolved to eat a fibre-based diet and their digestive system is most efficient and healthy when their ration is based on fibre.

The most common feeding strategy for alpacas is grazing supplemented with additional hay and at times of higher energy demand such as the winter months, during pregnancy and lactation, additional cereal concentrate rations are provided. Although cereal concentrates provide the extra calories needed, they may cause problems within the digestive system including gastric ulcers, colic and acidosis. Alternatives to using cereals include alfalfa, a quality source of fibre that is very low in starch.

Alfalfa is a member of the legume family that also includes soya, peas and beans. Legumes are known for being a good source of quality protein and alfalfa is no exception. It is also rich in naturally occurring vitamins and minerals but contains very little starch so is useful for avoiding digestive problems.

Dengie is the largest producer of alfalfa-based feeds in the UK and although they are marketed primarily for horses, they can and are used for a wide range of other animals including camelids. The Alfa-A range is based on pure alfalfa with different coatings whereas the Hi-Fi range combines alfalfa with other fibre sources such as straw and grass.

Generally, the Hi-Fi range with its lower energy values, are ideal for alpacas that maintain their weight with ease. For alpacas with increased energy requirements such as those that are kept for breeding, Alfa-A Original or Alfa-A Lite may be more appropriate. Alfalfa Pellets are also suitable for alpacas and are particularly convenient for feeding outside.

dengie alfa a range

Dengie is the largest producer of alfalfa-based feeds in the UK and although they are marketed primarily for horses, they can and are used for a wide range of other animals including camelids. The Alfa-A range is based on pure alfalfa with different coatings whereas the Hi-Fi range combines alfalfa with other fibre sources such as straw and grass.

Generally, the Hi-Fi range with its lower energy values, are ideal for alpacas that maintain their weight with ease. For alpacas with increased energy requirements such as those that are kept for breeding, Alfa-A Original or Alfa-A Lite may be more appropriate. Alfalfa Pellets are also suitable for alpacas and are particularly convenient for feeding outside.

TIME4GRAZING: Nutritionists advise to take care with early spring turnout

Nutritionists advise to take care with early spring turnout

With high feed costs comes a natural eagerness to release animals onto “cheaper” spring grass as soon as conditions permit.

And with many already turned out, or turning out in the coming days or weeks, we need peace of mind that they are getting the right levels – no more and no less – of the nutrients required for health and performance. Graph 1 illustrates how typical levels of magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na), calcium (Ca) and potassium (K) in pasture vary over the spring/summer grazing period.

Nutritionists advise to take care with early spring turnout

The challenge is that we often don’t know whether our animals are deficient until the signs of that deficiency have already started impacting on performance.

Overcoming the magnesium challenge

We all know that spring grass is typically low in magnesium and rich in rumen degradable protein (RDP).

High RDP can lead to an ammonia build up in the rumen, which in turn can prevent effective magnesium absorption.

Furthermore, lush grass that is low in fibre has a higher rate of digestive passage – meaning there is less time available for magnesium absorption.

This is perfect storm is where the danger of magnesium deficiency (known as hypomagnesaemia and often referred to as grass staggers) comes in.

This can impact on all ruminants but not least to mention in pre-calving dairy cows susceptible to milk fever and metabolic disorders when magnesium deficient.

By introducing a molasses-based liquid feed into a buffer TMR ration or as a straight, you are offering 6-carbon sugars that aid in protein utilisation – helping to:

  • prevent ammonia build up,
  • support magnesium absorption, and
  • reduce the risk of grass staggers.

Why feed magnesium through a liquid molasses?

As magnesium is relatively bitter and unpalatable in its raw form, offering it within a high sugar content molasses-based liquid feeds ensures intakes are achieved. The sugar is also known through research to speed up absorption of magnesium across the gut wall.

Working with global leaders ED&F Man – we are the go-to suppliers of molasses-based liquid feeds throughout the midlands to northern parts of the U.K.

Get in touch now to lock-in your minimum liquid feed supply* to cover you for the spring, summer and autumn 2022 period.

Call 01228 520212

 *As a standard indicator, we advise feeding cattle 1kg/head/day and sheep 200g/head/day.

TIME4GRAZING – Feeding cows at spring turnout

Feeding dairy cows at spring turnout

With silage currently costing approximately £1.50 per percentage of dry matter (DM) to produce and grass costing considerably less, assessing the quality of grass before and after turnout and using the findings to accurately inform forage and concentrate rations will help improve milk from grass this spring.

Balancing diets at turnout to prevent milk yield, butterfat levels or cow health from being affected needs to be a priority. Make sure you take the following steps to avoid these issues:

Analyse grass prior to turnout

Before spring turnout, it’s a good idea to call your local on-farm specialist to conduct grass analysis to help establish the potential milk from grazing to ensure optimum milk yield and quality are achieved.

Once an accurate estimate of milk yield from grass is obtained, dairy diets can be accurately balanced with concentrates and forage. Carr’s Billington can help with this using their DietCheck™ rationing programme.

Grass should be sampled between every two and four weeks after turnout and diets adjusted accordingly throughout the grazing season for two reasons:

  • If too much milk is produced from grass or if grass quality isn’t adequate, cows will lose condition to maintain their predicted milk yield
  • The nutritional value of grass and intakes vary day to day depending on which field cattle are in, how much grass is available and the weather conditions. During a nice spring day, cows will graze for longer periods of time. In contrast, wet, cold weather can reduce intakes and cause the grass dry matter and sugar content to drop. It’s important to note that issues, such as poor fertility and a decline in milk quality due to loss of condition, could arise after prolonged periods of reduced grass intakes.

Feed the correct concentrates and forage

Feeding dairy cows at spring turnout

It’s recommended that concentrates are adjusted as soon as possible once cows are turned out. Spring grass is usually high in Rumen Degradable Protein (RDP) which needs to be balanced with fermentable energy (FME), then topped up with DUP for higher yielding cows. Look for a cake that contains 16 or 14% protein and good DUP content from ingredients such as Carr’s Billington’s own AminoMax rumen-protected proteins.

If spring weather conditions are unusually dry, grass fertiliser uptake may be limited which could result in grass protein levels being lower than expected. In this instance, cows should continue to be fed an 18% protein cake, especially if they’re still getting a lot of silage.

On the other hand, lush spring grass is often very high in sugar and protein but low in fibre which can reduce butterfat levels and cause subclinical acidosis (SARA). To prevent this, add extra fibre into the herd’s diet by continuing to offer silage as a buffer feed and balancing with concentrates that are lower in protein and higher in digestible fibre. Look for feeds that contain our unique TechTonic rumen conditioner to reduce the risk of SARA and improve milk yields and butterfat percentage. Good quality, highly digestible fibre sources include sugar beet pulp, palm kernel and soya hulls and, unless high quantities of silage are being fed, beware of feeding too much wheat or barley.

Feed adequate levels of minerals and vitamins

It’s also important to consider mineral and vitamin levels within concentrate feeds to keep cows healthy.

As cows get closer to turnout Carr’s Billington increase the magnesium levels within the winter dairy cakes to help protect cows against staggers (hypomagnesemia). Once turned out, feed a summer cake that contains an adequate level of magnesium for your production system.

Cows on production systems that are fed very low levels of concentrates could benefit from Carr’s Billington’s MaxGrazer dairy cake once turned out. 2-4kg per day will adequately cover their mineral and vitamin requirements and the high energy content will also help support the fertility of spring calving herds.

TIME4TLC – To Creep Feed Or Not To Creep Feed?

To Creep Feed Or Not To Creep Feed

As every bite is precious, make the most of it by feeding a balanced diet, tailored to high levels of performance and an optimum rumen environment to get lambs away quickly.

Rising prices of feed, fertiliser and energy are putting pressure on margins. As production costs at farm level continue to rise, growing concerns over raw material availability are putting an even greater focus on maximising the use of homegrown resources, especially forage.

Moving lambs as quick as possible will help save on grass in late summer when fertiliser is too expensive to use in some beef and sheep enterprises.

For producers targeting early markets, it is even more important to achieve high levels of performance to ensure lambs can be drafted as soon as possible, freeing up available resources for other stock.

Feed efficiency is highest in the early stages of life and declines with age. As such, it is vital that lambs are fed a diet to maximise early life growth.

Creep feed provides the energy, DUP and starch needed to efficiently increase growth and promote rumen development.

Other benefits include:

  • Reduced energy demands on the ewe (especially for triplets, ewe lambs and ewes in poor condition)
  • Increased number of lambs slaughtered pre- weaning
  • Improved kill out % for lambs slaughtered before weaning

It is important to remember that lambs may not eat enough forage and are at risk of sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) and other diseases due to close contact.

Limiting setbacks in performance pre-weaning

  • As can be seen in the figure below, lambs will be consuming 50% of their diet from grass or other hard feed by 6 weeks of age.
  • It is therefore essential to ensure rumen development is optimised to avoid any setbacks post-weaning.
  • This requires very high-quality grass and/or creep feed – maintain swards between 4-8cm to maximise quality.
  • Where high quality grass is short, creep feed can help to fill the gap and maintain early growth from lambs.
  • Feed should be offered from 2-3 weeks of age.
  • Feed conversion (kg feed:kg weight gain) in young lambs is around 3.5:1 vs 7.5:1 post weaning.
  • For a feed priced at £370 this equates to £1.30/kg gain vs £2.78/kg gain for older lambs.
  • Young lambs are still developing their rumen, as a result they cannot fully digest many raw materials, it is essential therefore to select a feed formulated with only quality ingredients.
To creep feed or not to creep feed

Digestion in the rumen

The rumen is a large fermentation chamber packed full of microbes, which:

  • Digest feed to make energy and protein available to the animal
  • Require a low oxygen environment and a pH of 6.0-7.0 to optimise feed digestion

For optimal growth and digestion, the rumen microbes require a balanced source of effective fibre, digestible fibre, starch, sugars, proteins and trace elements

Rumen function

  • In lambs, we aim to promote rumen development early in life to ensure optimal performance later in life…

Choosing a concentrate for creep feeding:

  • 16-17% crude protein as fed
  • <35% cereals (e.g. barley, wheat or oats) using only highly palatable ingredients
  • Quality protein sources (e.g. soya)
  • Digestible fibre source (e.g. sugar beet), keeping fibre levels below 8% as lambs are unable to digest high levels in early life.
  • 5-10% molasses.
  • 2% high calcium/low magnesium minerals to avoid urinary calculi (crystals in urine)

Managing Stress in weaned lambs

Stress is known to suppress the immune system in lambs, and weaning is arguably the most stressful period in the lamb’s life. Additional stressors from a multitude of sources can also compound this problem further.

To creep feed or not to creep feed

Feeding and management of lambs post-weaning

There are several options available when fattening lambs post-weaning, depending on farm resources and time of year (e.g. grass finishing, grass plus concentrates, brassicas / root crops or ad lib concentrate feeding).

Independent of system there are several universal factors to consider:

  • Tailor the diet to lamb type – Lighter lambs require further frame growth and therefore protein. Heavier lambs need more energy and should be fed cereals or other high energy ingredients.
  • Sort by liveweight and bring groups forward in batches to improve efficiency.
  • Spread diet changes over 2-3 weeks to allow the microbes to adapt and reduce the risk of poor rumen function or acidosis.
  • Formulate concentrates to complement the feed and forages available on farm.

Actisaf® in lambs – overall trial results

Summary:

  • Maximise weight gain when the lamb is most efficient.
  • Make changes to the diet slowly.
  • Management of the lamb around weaning is key.
  • Tailor the diet to the type of lamb and based on the availability of on-farm feeds.
  • Feed Actisaf® live yeast for improved rumen development, rumen function, feed utilisation and daily live weight gain.

Carr’s Billington’s EARLYBITE LAMB PELLETS are a top-quality lamb creep feed containing Actisaf® live yeast to stabilise rumen pH, increase feed conversion ratio, promote fibre digestion and ease transition to concentrate feed.

 EARLYBITE high-energy lamb pellets also offer a balanced source of starch and digestible fibre, and contains EarlyBite® to improve palatability and intakes for faster rumen development and better growth efficiency.

To offer EARLYBITE as a creep feed for lambs up to 12 weeks of age, contact 01228 518860 or speak to your local store or advisor.