I have ventured into beef farming, mainly keeping the local breeds and I would like your assistance on best practices in nutrition, disease control and growth enhancement. Further, is it ideal to construct a zero-grazing unit similar to the dairy unit one? I have only one acre. Olunga Wanjala
Beef production involves growing, feeding and managing steers and heifers from weaning until they enter a feedlot where they are placed on a high concentrate finishing ration.
Proper feeding enhances weight gain by enabling the calves to grow enough muscles and bones before laying down a fat covering and marbling. This weight gain is very important in beef production and, therefore, should be monitored and bolstered right from calving to finishing phases of rearing.
The feeding regime, however, depends on the system of rearing, which can be intensive or extensive. Under intensive system, practising creep feeding which involves providing additional nutrients in form of hay, grains or mixed rations may be necessary to result in heavier, well-conditioned and uniformity at weaning.
After weaning, the steers are fed mainly on high quality forage, including hay, until they enter the feedlot for finishing. A variety of feed resources should be utilised to provide a balance of protein, energy and vitamins while mineral salts should be provided adequately.
Extensive system involves grazing cattle on forages for a certain period or the animals are fed on milled diets in a drylot.
There are several different designs of beef animal housing for smaller herds which can be chosen based on the prevailing weather condition at the location of your farm, topography for drainage or manure handling, age of the animals and the availability of feeding material.
These structures should include the crowding pen, holding pen when awaiting farm operations and the loading chute during marketing. Dairy zero-grazing units can also be used as they have adequate lighting and ventilation and if they are constructed with respect to the above-mentioned factors.
Apart from the main housing unit, other necessary structures put up around the farm include hay feeders preferably portable, a crush, watering equipment and a scale for weighing the cattle. The beef animals should be housed differently according to ages as calves, steers and finishing animals.
All these housing components should meet the animal and farmer’s operational needs without exceeding available resources. Maintaining optimum stocking density is important for long-term profitability of the farm.
Another essential aspect is maintaining good health for the bulls within acceptable standards of animal welfare. Beef animals get affected with non-notifiable, endemic and notifiable diseases such as foot and mouth, bluetongue and anthrax, among others.
Embracing good farming practices and regular monitoring of the animals for signs of illness is the best way to prevent diseases and control spread in case of an outbreak.
Signs of notifiable diseases should be immediately reported to the nearest veterinary office. New animals should be sourced from reputable ranches with certified, registered and well-kept records to make it easy for tracing infected bulls in the event of a disease outbreak.
Bio-security measures and hygiene provide other options for preventing disease outbreaks in the farm. These are restricting visitors, vehicles and equipment in and out of the farm and cleaning and disinfecting vehicles, equipment and wearing protective clothing while within the pens.
Most importantly, ensure the beef animals are vaccinated regularly and internal and external parasites are controlled.