Farming a mixed beef and tillage farm in Co Wexford, John and Tony Whelan constantly consider ways of improving their farming system in any way possible. It can be simple things like converting from round bales to large square bales for handling and storage purposes or large investments like the construction of a new purposely built handling facility. Efficiency was to the fore when Tony and John recently purchased a new diet feeder with technology inbuilt to allow for the exact measurement of each ingredient for the finishing ration to be recorded accurately and mixed in the correct order for the correct amount of time. The feeder is also equipped with an electric cut off switch to allow for it to automatically shut down when it has been mixed for the correct length of time so as to save on diesel. From the main computer the Whelans can reduce or increase the number of cattle to be fed and the system will automatically adjust its ration percentages to meet the change in numbers. This is important for their store to beef system where numbers are constantly changing as animals are bought or sold.
However it is not only the feeding equipment that the Whelans are interested in improving, the ration itself is being constantly tweaked and modified with the help of a nutritionist to allow for maximum growth rates without upsetting the animals’ eating habits. Maize is grown as a source of starch and also fed with home grown protein sources such as wheat and barley. Both cereals are fed to cattle and are treated with grain treatment to raise the protein content and stabilise it for the winter so that no imported protein products are necessary on the farm. The timing of rations are also meticulously planned.
As all animals finished off farm are purchased from other farmers, the Whelan family want to slowly bring the animals around to their feeding routine by introducing them to a starter diet of grass silage and small levels of grains and slowly building up onto maize silage and larger levels of cereals. This is to aid growth rates and prevent digestion upsets which is the same reason that straw bedding is used extensively on the farm. Straw bedding is carried out with a straw chopper and in conjunction with slatted areas for feeding is preferred to slats alone, as it allows dung to be spread on tillage stubbles and also helps to prevent lameness.
Animals troughs are swept down daily with all unused ration being taken out to prevent a build up of stale feed putting animals off their food. The Whelans also add a small amount of water to the finishing ration ir order to bring the dry matter content to the correct level of 46%. This allows for the animals’ digestion to be at maximum levels and for animals to consume all of the ration. Other digestion supplements also help to boost growth and prevent digestion issues in cattle when in their final feeding stage.
The Whelans are currently also building a handling unit with drafting gates, head scoops and circular forcing pens. This is a very important part of the business as all animals that are bought onto the farm are given a fluke and worm dose, as well as a lice treatment and a pneumonia preventative.
It is this level of detail to the smallest performance boosts that is aiding the thriving store to beef business which the Whelans are running.