Rough winter forecast for livestock producers

Farming pic. Cows at Midlem.
Farming pic. Cows at Midlem.

“THERE won’t be room for passengers this winter.”

That’s the stark warning to livestock producers from college experts as they face a difficult latter 2012 following the wet summer.

Scottish Agricultural College consultant Dr Basil Lowman suggests cattle farmers discuss with their buyers and suppliers options for minimising the stock they keep over the winter.

“There won’t be room for passengers this winter. With spring calvers I suggest farmers use a competent scanner to check heifers and cows are pregnant five weeks after the end of mating. Any barren cows should be weaned immediately before fattening them indoors and selling them as soon as possible,” he said.

Dr Lowman also recommends offering calves a high quality creep feed and, when intakes average 2kg per head per day, weaning and housing them, continuing to feed at least 2kg per day of the creep split between two feeds. He said: “Unless conditions improve I would keep first-calved heifers and other lean cows indoors. When the fitter ones have dried off they can be turned to dry fields or fed on sacrifice areas. In small herds, if bulls are just going out, consider trough-feeding cows if ground conditions allow.”

For autumn-calving stock, Dr Lowman stresses checking cows are pregnant and culling barren animals.

He advises: “If the wet conditions continue, keep them indoors to calving and keep them in. Don’t foster on calves. Cull any cows that lose a calf.

“You can leave bulling heifers outside, providing they are not doing too much damage to the field, but they must be housed at least three weeks prior to the start of bulling.”

For finishing cattle he suggests housing the most forward animals and feeding them up to reach slaughter weight as soon as possible.

In her assessment on the impact of the weather last week, NFU local regional manager Nina Clancy said: “Livestock performance will have dropped due to the wet conditions. When you look around the fields, livestock are not at their best. This will mean longer finishing times, extra costs in treatments and possibly increased feeding costs if this continues.”

SAC is also urging farmers to watch out for more worm problems as larvae travel up grass from dung more easily in the wet. And there are concerns about grass staggers (hypomagnesaemia) if the wet weather continues, with experts recommending farmers feed straw to slow the speed of food through the gut and so give more time for nutrients to be absorbed, or put out a high magnesium mineral supplement.