Tararua Focus Group 
Newsletter #3:

Beef Wintering Systems

Heifer-Grazing Contracts

Environmental aspects of cattle wintering

Pre-Tup Ewe Management

Thanks to those who braved the cold to come to Brent and Rachel Fouhy's property on the 8th of March. A smaller group made for lots of good discussion around all the topics presented.

Our speaker from Riverlands on bull-grazing contracts was unavailable at short notice, so unfortunately this aspect wasn't covered.

The key messages from the other presentations are summarised below.

Thanks for your interest, and if you have any feedback, be sure to let us know.

Ginny :-)

Ginny Dodunski, on behalf of the facilitators, Baker & Associates and Totally Vets Ltd

Fitting in a cattle finishing system:
Sully Allsop, Baker & Associates

What makes a profitable cattle finishing system?  Where feasible, a policy based around young, fast-growing animals is the most efficient and profitable.  Young cattle are comparatively more efficient at converting pasture into product. Sully worked through the following policies and compared their returns:

1.     May to May heifer grazing - young animals growing pretty quickly - profit of 16.3c/kgDM

2.     Bull calf to 15 month policy - young animal growing quickly - profit of 18.8c/kgDM

3.     Finishing older bulls 18 month to 2½ YO - Oldest animal growing pretty quickly - profit of 14.6c/kgDM

4.     Finishing older bulls yearlings to 2 YO - Older animal growing pretty quickly - profit of 16.9c/kgDM

Although a lot of these are bull trades, the fundamental principles are the same for steers or heifers - young animals are more efficient and liveweight gain trumps everything. But analysis like this does not tell the whole story. A policy of growing bull calves and killing them at 15 months might be the most profitable, but it certainly won't be the best policy for all farms.

Measuring profitability in terms of cents earned per kilogram of dry matter consumed (c/kgDM) is a good way to compare between systems, hence why it is used in the analysis above, but it doesn't take into account feed quality, stocking rate, or management.

Other Considerations

Young, fast growing animals may be the most profitable, but there are other factors that will limit their growth rates which might mean they won't be as efficient in some situations as an older animal.

Climate - In summer dry environments young weaner cattle won't grow on pasture. This reduced liveweight gain makes them less efficient therefore maybe an older animal (or no cattle at all) might be the better option.

Topography - If you farm on the side of a cliff with 30ha paddocks, a weaner calf is not going to be the most efficient converter of that pasture to product.

Pasture quality - young animals won't grow eating stem, dead matter etc. In this scenario a more mature animals is a more efficient converter of feed.

Infrastructure - bulls are more efficient than steers and heifers. But if you're not set up for them with good power and water they will spend more time fighting and breaking stuff and less time growing.

 Is your cattle finishing system profitable? Questions to ask yourself:

Does your cattle finishing system and feeding regime fit in well around the other facets of your farm, with feeding well planned so cattle are growing optimally, or has it just evolved without a lot of conscious planning?

Take a step back and take a good objective look at your cattle policy and decide whether it does fit in with your whole farm system as well as optimising growth rates.

Does your cattle finishing fit in with your properties strengths and weaknesses? Climate, topography, pasture quality, infrastructure etc.

Do you monitor liveweight gain (LWG) so you know what growth rates cattle are growing at in different seasons?

LWG is the key to a profitable system. A 0.1 kg/day reduction in LWG in bull calves costs between $70-$100 per animal per year! You won't see this in the paddock and a missed drench, or sub- clinical trace element deficiency can cause a far greater production loss than 0.1kgLWG/day. You cannot afford not to weigh animals.

All cattle will have EID tags soon. Make the most of it, as it will give you the ability to see decreases in LWG for individual animals. This means you can really hone in on production losses in individual animals and increase your cattle trading margins.

If your cattle are not growing as quickly as they could be, is there a good reason for it?

  • Minimal LWG through the winter when feed is expensive can be profitable. The aim is to squeeze more mouths through to the spring so more animals can be growing optimally on cheap spring feed.
  • Get the numbers right. If you are running the above policy your cattle should all be growing flat out (1.5-2kgLWG/day) through the spring. If they aren't, take less through the winter. One animal growing at 2kg/day is more efficient than two animals growing at 1kg/day.
  • Losing weight through the winter is terribly inefficient. For every kgDM you save through the winter with cattle losing weight, it takes you 2kgDM to put that weight back on. It isn't a 1 for 1 substitution.
  • The other time low LWG might be acceptable is if the cattle are spread out with ewes, cleaning up a bit of rougher pasture. Be realistic with this though - the idea of cattle complementing the ewe flock can be one of the biggest excuses for poor cattle performance.
  • Having cattle on hills from late spring through to autumn can have a positive effect on pasture quality and sheep performance. They might not be growing fast (0.2-0.5kg/day?) but are converting lower quality pasture to product. Older cattle will do this more efficiently than younger animals.
  • In the winter, having cattle spread out with ewes will not be complimenting the sheep. The idea that they will scratch a feed from rough pasture around banks and rougher faces is a fraud. They will do this, but only after they have eaten as much of the good-quality grass as they can get at. This doesn't do anything for the ewes or cattle and cattle will be losing weight in this scenario.
  • For high-performing ewe flocks, there is very rarely a need for cattle in with lambing ewes until late spring.
  • This does however raise the question as to where do trade cattle fit in through the winter. If different wintering systems are analysed, winter crops, cell systems, self fed silage, or just buying cattle in the spring, the profitability isn't that much different per hectare. There will be far more variation within the same types of system than there will be between different types of system.
  • The different systems will have different strengths for different farms. Does your cattle system fit in with your farm? Think about soil type, pugging damage, available land area. Cropping or self-fed silage systems condense animals onto a small area. Cell systems are cheaper but use more land. Crops restrict pugging damage to a small area etc.

There is a big potential to improve the bottom line in farm businesses by taking a step back, and ensuring that the cattle policy being run is the most efficient converter of the feed available into product. The biggest weaknesses in cattle systems is a lack of feed planning, and a lack of monitoring liveweight gain to understand what is actually happening.

Dairy heifer and bull beef grazing contracts - New Zealand Grazing company perspective: Ian Wickham, Managing Director

New Zealand Grazing Company has more than 25 years experience in managing the growing out of dairy replacement stock on contract.

There are currently three main areas of activity:

Growing out of dairy heifers from weaning to entry into the herd

Growing out and supply of Jersey mating bulls to dairy farmers

The Silver Fern Farms Bull Beef Nursery Grower contracts

Silver Ferns Farms Bull Beef Nursery Grower contracts

  • This system is into its 3rd season
  • Now 40,000 R1 bulls on contract throughout the NI
  • At 250kg bulls transfer to SFF grower-finisher contract
  • All bulls EID tagged, scanned on and off transporter and at every regular weigh episode
  • Unique ‘BlueLinker' Ap. Downloads and transmits weight data from TruTest scales to smartphone, can send straight to NZCG and other parties
  • Standard animal health protocol minimises animal health ‘surprises'
  • ‘A' and ‘B' contracts available
  • NZGC monitors, reports and make payment on the growth of contract nursery bulls

The best graziers are achieving close to 1kg/day summer LWG, the worst around 100g/day. Individual farmer ability being shown to have more impact on performance than feed type, grazing system or district.

Environmental aspects of cattle wintering - protecting our soils and waterways. Benefits of having a formal plan:
Grant McLaren and Malcolm Todd, Horizons Regional Council

Winter pugging damage has been consistently shown to reduce pasture grown in the subsequent season by 30% to 50% (for at least 3 months).

Contact your local B+LNZ Extension Manager for a copy of ‘A Guide to Visual Soil Assessment' - this can help you ascertain the existing level of compaction and other damage to your soil resource, and explains a method to assess the versatility, strengths and weaknesses of the soils on your property. We looked at the visual differences of pugged v. unpugged soil at the Fouhy's and it was easy to see the effects of consolidation and soil structural damage in the pugged sample.

Light stocking on pugged areas is essential in the repair phase.

Wet, consolidated soils have a higher phosphate requirement than the Olsen P suggests because the plant roots cannot get to the P.

Intensive cattle wintering systems can also impact waterway quality if run-off and leaching is not managed. Horizons will be focussing on riparian retirement and reducing the amount of sediment getting into water ways.

Specific points on poplar planting:

  • If more than 100 poplar stems/ha then pasture production is reduced
  • Must not graze cattle for 18 months after pole planting

As part of the SLUI (Soil and Land Use Initiative) Horizons can offer a Whole Farm Plan which considers the physical, productive and financial aspects of your farm; highlighting opportunities for increased profitability on the productive side, suggesting a plan for making the most of each ‘land management unit', and proposed works to minimise environmental impacts (which may include plantings, stream bank retirement, native reforestation etc).

General cattle winter health and management checklist:
Trevor Cook, Totally Vets

  • As with sheep, worm challenge will be high this year.
  • The main worm to watch out for in the summer/early autumn is Cooperia
  • Levamisole is a must to kill this worm so use a combination with a levamisole component in it.
  • Ostertagia is the one to watch out for from autumn through the winter. Requires a mectin type drench.
  • Obviously calves are the most at risk but in young cattle-dominant systems 18 month cattle will be under pressure too.
  • The winter drenching interval for calves in young cattle-dominant systems is likely to be needed to be monthly. Where they are heavily integrated with sheep or older cattle this can be stretched out.
  • There is a lot of research coming out that suggests pour-on drenches are very less effective so avoid them if possible. With younger cattle this is not as big an issue but with bigger animals options are a bit more limited. Injectables are an option for them.
  • Weaner calves being bought or weaned off cows now need a 5in1 booster. They should have got a sensitiser at calf marking. A 5in1 programme for dairy calves is a must.
  • Copper deficiency can reduce live weight gain by 30% with no clinical signs. 18 month cattle can benefit from a copper injection going into the winter.
  • Copper toxicity (too much copper) can occur so don't overdo it.
  • Copper is most likely to impact on a yearlings spring live weight gain. A 10 gram copper bullet for calves now could look after them for up to 12 months depending on your farms natural copper levels and won't cause toxicity problems.
  • Autumn is a great time to test for most trace element deficiencies. Important trace elements will reach their lowest point in late spring so ensuring that they take plenty into the winter is essential to prevent deficiencies. Autumn monitoring can indicate how much is needed.
  • Trace element deficiencies can be tested in live cattle through liver biopsies or in cull cows going to the works. Liver biopsies on live cattle are better as you can test at the most appropriate time be sure they are representative of the class you want to test.
  • A drench for yearling cattle coming out of the winter is essential.

Ewe management mating to Scanning:
Trevor Cook, Totally Vets

For those of you who haven't put the ram out yet, there is still time to have an impact before tupping!

  • Are your ewes as good as you think they are? In many flocks we are still finding a significant tail end. Get in and put a hand on them. The aim should be condition score 3+ at tupping.
  • Most hill country feed currently has an ME of 8 - 9. This will only maintain ewe condition BUT within this pasture sward there will be some feed with an ME of 11-12. Ewes will eat this first. If you want your ewes to be putting on condition you will need to be shifting them every day so they are getting a fresh pick of high ME feed every day.
  • You only get one chance to get lambs inside ewes. Now is not the time for them to be working. Worry about cleaning up feed later; it isn't the ewe's job now.
  • There are the 20 golden days of tupping. This is 10 days before the ram is introduced, and the 10 days following that. Feed to excess with high ME feed in these 20 days and you will get a flushing effect for the first cycle at which point most of your ewes should be in lamb.

Feeding after the 20 golden days

  • After the 20 golden days the aim should be to maintain ewe condition until 55 days after the ram was introduced. After these 55 days you can afford to work the ewes until 5 weeks out from lambing provided they get to 5 weeks out at CS3. If you don't have them better than BCS3 at mating, you can't afford to have them lose condition.
  • If ewes are to be fed less than maintenance in this middle trimester, do it in short sharp shifts.
  • From 5 weeks out from lambing multiples should be preferentially fed. The aim should be to set yourself up so that ewes do not lose any condition in the five weeks leading into lambing - this is very important to lamb survival post lambing.

Other stuff

  • You should be safe shearing ewes a month after the ram has been removed.
  • Have a trained person pushing ewes up at scanning to mark any multiples less than BCS3. These need preferential feeding. Putting condition on multiple ewes less than BCS3 is worth about 45c/kgDM. This is more profitable than winter lamb trading or dairy cow wintering.
  • Watch out for worms this winter, there will be a lot of them. Be aware once ewes start working - watch out for a tail developing, these could use a drench.
  • Be Wormwise. Refugia is the best tool - don't drench all animals in a mob. Use combination drenches.
  • Avoid long acting drenches if possible. If you do use capsules etc think about refugia. If all twins are capsuled, maybe leave the best conditioned ewes untreated, or run some untreated singles with treated twins.
  • In terms of drench resistance, a short-acting drench to ewes pre-lamb is safer than at docking.