Greenmount Agricultural College is this year providing a course enabl-ing students to sit for their Advanced National Certificate in Agriculture.
The course is the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland, and 24 students are taking part – 10 studying beef and sheep plus pigs or poultry, and 14 studying dairying plus pigs or poultry.
Main project for the 10 second-year beef students is the fattening of 36 steers and the keeping of detailed records showing liveweight gains and the amount of food consumed by each animal weekly.
A complete analysis of all outlay on the cattle is also recorded, and at the end of the fattening programme costs since the experiment began in November will be balanced against the market price of the cattle.
Mr Robin Jamison, in charge of beef production at the college, said that students who completed the course should be “equipped with the necessary know-how” either to manage their own farms or to take jobs as stockmen on specialised beef units.
“Some will undoubtedly go back to active farming while others will, as holders of the NCA, be qualified for posts in ancillary trades.”
Mr Jamison said that in addition to the basic aim of bringing the cattle to killing standard, the 36 animals had been divided into three groups of 12, each group being fed on a different ration – meal plus silage with no additive, meal plus silage with molasses as an additive, and meal plus silage with formic acid added.
“Comprehensive records and comparisons are being kept of the liveweight gains and amount of food eaten by each group and these will be analysed toward the end of the year.
At present, the average daily consumption of all 36 steers is between 50 and 60 lbs of silage plus around five lbs of meal – “of course, the feeding ration is being stepped up as the animals get older,” Mr Jamison pointed out.
The animals used in the experiment are of various crosses – mainly Hereford, Friesian and Shorthorn – and were either bought as stores or taken from the Greenmount herd as one year olds. Their present average weight is 7¾ cwt – compared with 6½ cwt in November – an average daily livewight gain of near 1¾ lbs.