9th November 2022
Three hacks to improve efficiencies in housed livestock this winter
Maximising efficiencies during the winter housing period will support farm business profitability.
There’s no arguing that the 2022 growing season has been challenging for UK-based farmers. Drought conditions in June, July and August limited grass growth, resulting in many dairy and beef farmers heading into winter with less silage in the clamp than usual. The high cost of fuel and inputs such as fertiliser have also increased the cost of forage production, meaning farmers looking to buy in extra feed will be faced with high prices and low availability.
Increasing farm efficiencies will be a crucial part of managing cost of production this winter. Luckily, there are ways to help reduce forage wastage, improve feed efficiency and prevent disease, as demonstrated by the below three housing hacks.
Hack 1. Protecting silage from rodents
With limited forage availability, it’s essential to reduce losses before it is even fed to cattle. Silage losses from a clamp can be as high as 40%1, with preparation of the clamp, how it is filled and consolidated and how it is sealed all playing a role.
Once the clamp is sealed with a proven oxygen barrier, adding weight to the top of the clamp helps to further eliminate oxygen pockets and reduces aerobic spoilage. Tyres are commonly used to weigh down silage clamps, but are not necessarily the best option. A cover with close weave and hard wearing properties, such as Galebreaker silage sheets,
provides the added benefit of protection from rodents and birds, preventing them from scratching through the oxygen barrier, which can lead to the top of the clamp being spoiled.
From a labour efficiency perspective, a silage sheet is:
· Quicker to apply compared to using tyres
· There is no need to spend time patching up holes in the oxygen barrier as rodents and birds cannot scratch through
· They also eliminate the need to store tyres
Hack 2. Weatherproof housing to improve feed and bedding efficiency
Effective weatherproofing can help bypass problems that commonly arise while livestock are housed over winter.
Wind chill can result in a rise in feed intake in youngstock as they typically eat more to maintain their body temperature, leading to a reduction in feed conversion efficiency.
In mild and wet winters, exposure to rain due to inadequate weatherproofing can result in straw getting wet. Not only does this increase the quantity of straw used for bedding, increasing costs, but it can also create warm and damp conditions which enable some disease-causing parasites and bacteria to thrive.
A weatherproof mesh, such as a Bayscreen, can protect against the wind, allow good ventilation, help keep bedding dry and also enable good light penetration, creating a comfortable environment for housed cattle.
Hack 3. Improve ventilation to reduce respiratory disease risk in cattle
Ensuring adequate ventilation can reduce the risk of respiratory disease. Flare ups of pneumonia in young cattle can be common over winter but are largely preventable by ensuring there is a good flow of air into, through and out of the shed in which calves are housed.
The cost of treating calves with antibiotics can rapidly add up, but there are also the hidden costs which come with damaged lungs due to pneumonia outbreaks. The disease results in
14.5% of dairy heifers failing to make it to first lactation2, while in beef calves the lung damage caused by pneumonia infection can reduce weight gain by up to 6kg per month3.
Ventilation solutions are varied, and the best option will be dependent on the style of the housing, the age of livestock and the stocking rate.
In an open sided shed, natural ventilation may be sufficient, but it’s important to be aware of wind direction to ensure adequate weatherproofing is in place, for the reasons described above. A Rollerscreen can offer the flexibility to ensure weather protection is in place when needed, but allowing open sides to maximise airflow when the weather conditions are amenable.
In more enclosed sheds, mechanical ventilation solutions may be required. For youngstock, a VentTube Fresh system is often the best way to optimise airflow and reduce respiratory disease risk.
Ultimately, the best ventilation and weatherproofing solution for any given livestock shed will be dependent on a number of factors. The Galebreaker team can provide a shed assessment to provide tailored advice on how to create the optimal environment inside livestock housing. If this service is of interest, get in touch to book an assessment today.
2 Brickell, J.S., McGowan, M.M., Pfeiffer, D.U., Wathes, D.C. (2009) Mortality in Holstein-Friesian calves and replacement heifers, in relation to body-weight and IGF-1 concentration, on 19 farms in England. Animal 3, 1175–1182.
3 Williams, P. and Green, Laura E. (2007) Associations between lung lesions and grade and estimated daily live weight gain in bull beef at slaughter. In: 3rd Flagship Congress British-Cattle-Veterinary-Association, Glasgow, Scotland, 2007. Published in: Cattle Practice, Vol.15 (No.3). pp.244-249.