Stress can be a problem on all livestock units, increasing potential levels of disease and the number of days on farm, but properly addressed, can result in massive physical and financial rewards.

By paying particular attention to bought in animals in their first 24-48 hours, and providing a consistent, Keenan-devised quality feed ration at all times, not only has Sam Myles and his team been able to reduce mortality on farm, but also improve daily liveweight gains.

Sam is farm manager for Kepak’s sole finishing beef unit in Dunboyne, Co Meath, in Eire, which finishes 3500 cattle per year and by relying on the advice of a Keenan nutritionist, has seen average daily liveweight gains rise to 1.7kg per day amongst the bulls and 1.3kg for heifers.

Furthermore, with increased attention to detail at all times, mortality rates have also been significantly reduced and last year saw just 14 carted away.

“Stress is a major issue for calves when they leave their home farm,” said Sam. “We buy 60% of our calves on farm privately purely to reduce stress levels and potential of them picking up disease at a market,” he added pointing out that most are bought between 400-500kg, with farmers paid on a per kg basis on arrival to the farm.

The Kepak unit comprises 370ha of which 320 are used to grow home-grown maize, grass silage, wheat, barley and beans for feed with the remaining 50ha used for grazing younger calves.

In all, the enterprise is home to roughly 1500 head of cattle at any one time, but with 70-80 slaughtered each week through Kepak, store cattle are bought in regularly - by one of four buyers - to ensure a constant supply throughout the year.

All are continental bred, with young bulls bought privately on farm anything from 12-16 months for finishing between 16-20months of age. Heifers are purchased either on farm or at the mart at 16-24-months and finished at anything from 20 to 28months. Carcase weights and grades range from 350-400kg with U and R grades with bulls and heifers killing out at 58% and 54% respectively.

Ensuring stress is kept to a minimum at all times is key to the overall health and productivity, with the result that calves are kept in their initial batches at all times.

On arrival, each calf is clipped, weighted, given a management tag and a colour coded tag according to who bought it, vaccinated for pneumonia and the clostridial diseases and given a dose for fluke and worms. They are then allowed to “destress” for 24-36 hours in one big pen and provided with a feed ration of hay, long forage and straw, to maximise rumen potential.

With more than 100 separate pens, calves are kept in their initial batches with the only exception being that bulls and heifers are kept separate. Bulls are also kept in smaller lots of up to nine, whereas heifers are run in bigger lots. Most of the heifers are housed in straw bedded courts too whereas the bulls are on slats, although previous trials have revealed no difference in daily liveweight gains between the two systems.

Both lots are nevertheless finished within 120 days but on different rations. Heifers are fed a build-up ration, which comprises mostly maize and grass silage, for 50 days and a finishing diet for 70 days. This compares to the bulls that provided the build-up diet for 20 days and finishing for 100days.

Finishing ration for the young bulls comprises 4kg per head per day of brewers grains; 5.5kg of maize silage; 10.10kg of a home pre-mix meal and 0.8kg of wheat straw. This compares to the final feed for the heifers which is made up of 5.0kg of brewers grains per head along with 9.0kg of maize silage; 8.7kg of the pre-mix and 0.6kg per head per day of wheat straw. This provides a ration with dry matter levels 11.93kg and 11.76kg for bulls and heifers respectively.

The pre-mix meal comprises bought in distillers grains, rape meal, molasses and an organic mineral mix made up of the Alltech products yea-sacc and optigen which are known to drive performance, enhance palatability and fibre digestion.

“If you want to improve performance, you need to provide a palatable, consistent feed everyday, keep stress levels to a minimum, ensure animals have access to feed and clean water at all times, and isolate any sick animals as soon as possible,” said Sam.

It was a point echoed by Alltech beef specialist Richard Dudgeon, who added that the best way to ensure a consistent feed is to ensure all ingredients are mixed in the right order, concentration and for the correct number of resolutions. This, he said, ensures every mouthful contains the correct amount of starch, sugar and protein and that forages are the right chop type and length for the required performance.

With 100 pens of cattle of various ages and sexes, there are eight different rations on the go at any one time, which means feeding can take up to four hours per day to ensure each pen is provided with the correct nutritional feed and amount according to their growth stage.

Outwith feeding, care is taken on a daily basis to make sure every animal on the farm is fit and well. Any unwell animals are isolated that day and treated accordingly.

All pens, whether straw bedded or slatted are also cleaned out between lots.

With four cattle buyers, and their purchases colour tagged accordingly, buyers also learn how their cattle kill out at the end of the finishing period.

Sam said: “We get all the grades and weights back from the abattoir, so we can track how well individual buyers are doing and where they need to improve. Charolais in general are the best performers as they have the highest levels of feed conversion efficiency, but they are also more expensive to buy.”

Kepak is a long-time user of Alltech and Keenan feeding solutions. Alltech beef specialist, Richard Dudgeon, is also in regular contact with the management team on the farm to ensure optimum animal performance through specialist nutrition.