Pay attention and be prepared to help stock through winter, says NBA board member

Charlie Maclaren offers advice on everything from diet to spotting the effects of Mycotoxins

Charlie Maclaren of the National Beef Association
Charlie Maclaren of the National Beef Association

With the harvest and autumn sowing mostly completed, North East farmers are being advised to turn their attention to helping their stock through the winter.

Charlie Maclaren, a recently appointed board member of the Hexham-based National Beef Association, said a few simple steps could help ensure productivity is sustained and costs are closely monitored.

“First of all, analyse all your home-grown bulk forage for feed value, and work out how many tonnes you have,” he said.

“Do the same with any home-grown cereals you may have, and also your straw. You will have an accurate figure for the number of beasts to feed but do you have their weights? If you don’t know what size they are, how can you feed them correctly?”

Next, he said, farmers must decide what live weight gain they want.

“Divide this by the number of days housed or the number of days you will feed them for,” he continued. “To convert this amount into a daily diet, you may need some nutritional help.

“When you are working out what the daily diet should be for the period, remember that as they grow they will eat more.

“You may need to buy in other products to complete the diet, but now you know how much you need, and when, so you can go to the market place and do your deal with your feed supplier.”

Mr Maclaren advised that if farmers had previously had “niggling problems” at calving or with performance, it would be worthwhile doing a mineral profile of their forage or running a complete diet check to rule out any antagonists interfering with the animal’s health and performance.

“Armed now with all this information, you are now in a better place to utilise the full potential of your cattle and of what you have grown,” Mr Maclaren said.

“By the use of your weigh scales you can check on the efficiency of the diet and will be able to tweak the diet to improve their daily live weight gain, if necessary. Remember: if you can’t measure it, you can’t monitor it.”

Finally, Mr Maclaren advised that farmers be aware of Mycotoxins, the “new buzz word that everyone and his dog seems to be talking about”.

First identified around 10 years ago, the term refers to waste product from moulds, which is found on plants but is invisible to the naked eye.

Mycotoxins affect grass and are more likely to be found on second cut silage and straw.

“There are many different types but the two most common are Deoxynivalenol (don) and Zearalenone (zon) and these affect your stock in different ways,” Mr Maclaren said.

“In dairy cows, the signs are easier to spot, with a sudden drop in milk being the most obvious, or cows not achieving their expected milk yield.

“Most commonly, these symptoms affect newly calved cows more aggressively, resulting in very loose dung and a rapid loss in weight.

“These same symptoms will affect beef cows, mainly causing a mixture of calving problems - including still-born calves - and a whole variety of other problems all connected with the animal’s immune system.

“Because a suckler cow is fed a more forage-based diet it leaves it more susceptible to the effects. Because these are normally wintered as dry cows, it is even harder to spot.”

In conclusion, Mr Maclaren said, the best way to limit the effect of increased costs and poor production is to “be in front of the game and be prepared”.

“It is all about attention to detail, and the use of weigh scales lets you monitor performance,” he said.

“This, in turn, keeps you on track to achieve your targets cost effectively.”

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