THE REARING OF BEEF CATTLE
Beef production entails four different rearing stages which are:
- the rearing of the mother cattle and the neonatal period of the calf;
- the weaning of the calf;
- the backgrounding or stocker stage;
- the finishing or fattening stage.
Each of these stages requires the utmost attention because each is characterised by “critical moments” that can affect how the livestock develops. It’s important to remember, however, that achieving high quality standards in meat production depends not only on the rearing stage, but also on those that come after, or rather the pre-slaughter, slaughter, ageing, butchering, packaging, and marketing stages.
The Rearing of Suckler Cows
The primary issues involved in rearing a suckler cow are related to the environmental conditions in which the cow, and subsequently the calf, live and to the nutritional conditions of the mother cow at the time of birth. Proper dietary management in the final stages of gestation is a factor that can heavily influence both the mother’s and calf’s susceptibility to illness. Administering a healthy diet with an adequate energy and protein content is essential to safeguarding the calf’s health and proper development during the suckling stage, and is also fundamental to the mother cow’s subsequent reproductive performance.
Weaning of the Beef Calf
During this period fundamental anatomic and physiological changes take place in the calf’s digestive tract. This is when the colonies of bacteria and protozoans grow and spread within the rumen, important because they are at the basis of an adult ruminant’s digestive processes. Thus, the weaning plan for a calf must take into account these aspects related to the digestive tract.
The arrival of young, growing livestock is a very delicate moment. This change brings with it potential issues related to the stress which the animal may have suffered during the trip and connected to the change in environment, as well as to the promiscuity of calves of different origins.
From a nutritional perspective, it’s best to feed them a diet that’s appropriate for handling this transitional stage and encouraging the young livestock’s adjustment to their new environment.
Administering degradable fibre together with a specific energy content and sources of Vitamin E are key aspects to keep in mind from a nutritional perspective.
The Finishing Stage
To properly manage this stage, it’s necessary to prepare a dietary plan that takes into account the genotype being reared, therefore whether it’s a breed that tends to develop earlier or later, but also and especially the characteristics of the meat which the target market desires.
As a general concept, the fibre content must be the minimum necessary for ensuring that the rumen remains physiologically active, leaving space (in terms of ingestion) for high energy concentrates that contribute to achieving the primary goal during this stage, or rather that of bringing the beef cattle to maturity in the shortest time possible and with the quality, in terms of conformation and level of fat, that is appropriate to the reference market.