Capturing the weight of an animal correctly has become easier with modern handling equipment such as cattle crushes, weigh platforms and squeeze crates equipped with digital weighing equipment. When linked to EID panel and stick readers, meaningful data capture such as weight etc. offers valuable insights to livestock producers. Capital grant schemes regularly assist towards digital weighing and EID reading solution purchases for UK producers too.
Ian Norbury is an AHDB Strategic Farm and the @Mobberleyangus beef brand is now achieving a reputation for quality beef through local butchers and pub chain outlets alike with proven provenance of the meat giving higher returns.
“The Tru-Test XR5000 is a game changer, collecting and delivering as much or as little information as you want. I like to see Daily Liveweight Gain, Average Liveweight Gain, Sire / Dam, UK Tag number and health status”.
Ian weighs every animal off the farm too when selling to abattoir or for breeding, he then stays to see them graded so he can get a good idea of confirmation and carcass quality and ensure that the sire and confirmation are working for him.
“I use the Datamars Livestock app and needed 0.8kg of DLWG not 1kg DLWG last winter on my store cattle in order to meet my month and weight goal, which is to kill between 16 -22 months, this saves on concentrate usage and saves money. We utilise this information talking to our feed supplier and fine tune our ration. By weighing every three weeks, a clear indication can be seen onscreen from the graphs seeing if the feed is delivering what we hope. Regular weighing at Mobberly also reveals any underlying health or nutritional deficiencies quickly so intervention can take place sooner”.
By staying with the bulls at kill and seeing them graded he can see how his weights are comparing to the end kill weight, plus he can see more from his Sire & Dam when a carcass is hanging up as Ian is striving for a more efficient cow who eats less but still produces quality offspring.
Weighing & health
A host of symptoms indicate poor health, but a key indicator is Daily Liveweight Gain (DLWG) which can reveal an underlying issue in a group or an individual often before other symptoms become apparent and more serious. Respiratory disease in housed cattle such as pneumonia and Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR) virus can see animals take 14 days longer to reach breeding weights and average DLWG reductions of 200g+ per day. Increasing days taken to slaughter and poorer carcase classification (Source; AHDS Better Returns).
The degree of a parasite burden can also be determined by regular weighing backed by other symptoms, pasture history and Faecal egg counts (FEC) etc. Weighing pre-treatment also makes sure that treatment is delivered correctly. Treating to the heaviest in the mob and splitting the group by weight if necessary. This ensures product efficacy and reduces the risk of resistance build up. The most common cause of underdosing sheep is by estimating bodyweights (Source; SCOPS).
Weighing along with Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is also useful in planning and monitoring the condition of the flock pre-tupping and this can even pre-empt an early weaning decision to ensure ewes are in the right condition and if possible, on a rising plain of nutrition pre-tupping.
BCS and weighing in cows can also help to determine a weaning decision for sucklers if cows may require more costly supplementary feed to get them back to optimum condition pre-bulling. Along with producing a healthy calf with enough good colostrum post calving. In dairy units, drying off sooner to help cows regain weight and monitoring of this along with BCS helps confirm their feed regime is succeeding to get them back to their optimum condition before calving too.
Weighing & nutrition
Attributing the real cause of poor DLWG can be a related health issue as discussed, but also a nutritional deficiency. A lack of fresh forage, or if the animals are housed, an inadequate ration can be a major contributor. It can also be a mineral deficiency too which may take more investigation. Looking at a pasture-based system, lambs at 8 weeks are receiving more nutrition from grazed grass that milk and so at this crucial phase, they are competing against their mothers too on the pasture (Source AHDS Better Returns).
Weighing can highlight issues and may dictate the timing of weaning if grass is tight. Enabling lambs to then be moved to forage aftermath offering nutrient rich high protein supplements and/or drench. The lambs can be kept on their required growth path and leaner ewes can start recovering so their BCS is improving in readiness for tupping.
Poor lamb DLWG and other clinical symptoms scan point to trace element deficiencies in cobalt, copper, and vitamin E and selenium. Cobalt-deficient lambscan also have high levels of gutworms present (parasitic gastroenteritis or PGE) requiring anthelmintic treatment. Often, a relationship existsbetween their cobalt deficiency and inability to internally manufacture sufficient vitamin B12 in the rumen due to their worm burden and heavy scouring for example. They also respond poorly to vaccinations and be more susceptible to clostridial diseases such as pulpy kidney and pneumonia. Supplementsare extremely low in cost compared to production losses from poor growth and delays in finishing costing in excess of £10-£15 per lamb. (Source; NADIS).
Weighing & genetics
Weighing and tracking performance can also identify key performers within the herd or flock so those genetic traits can be retained when breeding replacements. Or identifying which terminal sires are producing the best animals for resale.
Animals that produce offspring at an optimal birthweight, who then thrive and grow faster reaching maturity for finishing or breeding themselves ensure the livestock unit is becoming more efficient and profitable. Weighing of both cow and calf in suckler units reveals an extremely useful key performance indicator (KPI), the weaning index. A calf should weigh as close to 50% of the dam when weaned. During a 12-month period, 75% of feed consumed is used for maintenance by the animal so heavier cows need to perform or be culled out and their genetics not retained if breeding your own replacements (Source; Ian Cairns 5Agri).