Steer competitions allow many young people the opportunity to learn a range of responsibilities and gain skills and knowledge that can be used in their future careers and in their broader lives.
Preparing a steer requires knowledge of selection, nutrition and a commitment to ensure the steer grows according to a specific end point. For young people there is the responsibility of not only feeding and caring for the animal, its also about the preparation and training.
So what brings success in a steer ring? As a judge I have some pretty clear expectations for steers. The things I consider are important not just for the show ring. I am looking for the traits that are economically and commercially relevant. Through judging I hope that people preparing steers, learn to use that experience in their approach to commercial operations, and so produce more economically valuable animals for themselves and for the clients they hope to attract.
Whenever I consider a class of steers, my first thoughts are about the class specifications. Specifications for weight and fatness are essential! The processor for various reasons sets a weight. These range from;
• ensuring that the primal cuts that the carcass will be broken down into are the correct size for further fabrication into retail cuts
• efficiency of processing within a plant
• ease of processing. For example a local butcher has smaller lighter bodies both for retail purposes and for the simple reason that there isn’t enough room in a small chiller for a larger carcass!
If a steer is too heavy or too light for class specifications, I automatically discount it as a place winner. In the commercial world this discounting happens with a lower price offer from the purchaser.
There are some important lessons to consider beyond the obvious discounting for price (or points in a competition). If your steers are too heavy then they should have been entered into a different class. Or in commercial operations sold to a heavier market.
My second consideration for class specifications is for the specifications for fatness. Again there are fat depths set for a reason. These include the minimum required for MSA grading (3mm on the rib) as well as to ensure an evenly covered carcass. Over fat cattle create more issues with excessive trim.
The lesson to consider is that if you are preparing steers, for competition or for the market, know your specifications! If you are failing to meet the specs, does this mean you need to consider:
• Feeding program – are you growing at the optimum daily rate for your target? If it is too slow will you fall below the minimum? Too fast and will you overshoot?
• Fatness – Consider not just your feeding but also your animals maturity patter. Is your maturity pattern correct for your target market / class specifications? Later maturity animals lay fat down later, so will you be able to meet the requirements with your maturity pattern. Similarly are you not being too ambitious with early maturity patterns?
Once I’ve considered the suitability of the steers to their class specifications, I assess each steer for its overall muscle volume. Muscle is directly related to saleable red meat, and so the more an animal has, the more saleable red meat is available and so the value of that animal increases.
I assess muscle volume using the industry accepted muscle scores. I find it useful to think about volume in the same way it is calculated for any shape. Essentially it means to consider length, depth and width.
So I look at the length of the animal. I consider its width, through the loins and rib eye, and the width of stance and through the hindquarters. Lastly I look to see how deep is the muscle volume extending from the hindquarters down to the stifle. I like to see broader, rounder, longer steers.
My final consideration is to look at the overall fatness of the steer. It’s one thing to meet specifications. However it’s another to be evenly covered across the carcass. I look and feel over the major primals and over the carcass to see if the fat appears to be evenly distributed. Sometimes you can feel the fat coverage is uneven or hasn’t quite extended across the major areas.
As a carcass judge I’ve seen many bodies that are unevenly finished. This adds to the processors level of trim and overall reduces the value of the carcass to the processor. So its something I do try and consider and provide feedback on.
Essentially I use these three key areas to judge steers. Ultimately the steers that meet specification, display the high degree of muscle and even distribution of fatness are the ones I will select to be my place winners.
I don’t spend any time worrying about what the herd is like that produced these steers. I don’t worry about the heifers in the herd or anything outside of the ring. As a judge I can only assess what I see in front of me. Just as a buyer will only consider what is in front of them at the sale and if they will suit the processors needs. Focusing on these things does provide breeders with the information they need to fine-tune their program at home.
And for young people making their way into the industry, the lesson of knowing the market specifications, choosing cattle that suit their market and selecting for yield are lessons that will take them a long way into commercial and show ring success.
Feeding stock is a task that requires some prior preparation. While most feeds can be provided to ruminants, it doesn’t mean that you can feed them without following a few simple rules.
The rumen is a living environment, which hosts the micro-flora, fungi and other organisms that actually work to break feed down so that it can be absorbed and used by the animal. Sudden changes in feed type, lack or roughage and reduced water intake can all create a situation where the environment of the rumen becomes unhealthy to the micro-flora and results in digestive upsets and illness.
Mostly the rumen remains fairly stable as livestock select diets that allow the rumen micro-flora to thrive and do their job of breaking down material for absorption and digestion. Problems start to arise when diets and rations are offered that create unhealthy rumen environments.
As mentioned before common issues are changes in feed types, particularly to including grains that have high levels of starch. It also occurs when fibre is lacking or if rations are less than the animal requires and as it becomes hungrier it eats plants that may contain toxins that can result in illness or death.
Poisoning is a risk that many producers have had to consider this year. Common issues have been weeds that have been eaten as hungry stock eat whatever they can chew. It also has been an issue as new weeds arrive in drought feeds. Stock may consume plants that are poisonous simply because they have never seen them before.
However the biggest issue has been with sorghum crops that have been grazed or cut for fodder. The cause has been either from Nitrate poisoning or from Prussic Acid.
What is Nitrate Poisoning?
Nitrogen is needs by plants for growth. They absorb nitrogen through the soil and root system. Young plants and leaves have high levels of nitrates as they are growing. However when plants are stressed or not growing at a rate that allows the nitrogen to be used, the plant stores this as nitrate. Some plants are more prone than others to do this (they are known as ‘nitrate accumulators’), but most plants will accumulate nitrates to some degree if stressed.
The issue for livestock is that when the material is eaten that Nitrate is converted to nitrite. This chemical change allows the nitrite to be quickly absorbed from digested feed into the blood system where it attaches to hemoglobin. These nitrites replace oxygen cells in the blood and cause rapid impacts on the animal.
Within 15-20 minutes symptoms like staggering, difficulty breathing, spasms and foaming at the mouth start to occur. Many affected animals will lie down while some may thrash about. I’ve had it described to me that the cattle looked drunk.
Its mainly sheep and cattle impacted in this way. Horses and pigs are less affected by nitrate because they don’t convert it to nitrite. If levels are high though, the nitrate can damage the lining of their gut.
According to a number of sources, most of the species commonly grazed in Australia can cause nitrate poisoning if stressed. These are species that include oats, sorghum, maize, sudan grass, Johnson grass, canola, lucerne, kikuyu, turnip and sugar beet tops, soybean, wheat, barley and a range of weeds.
It’s essential that you consider feed testing any fodder that you purchase to see what level of nitrate is in the feed. Ask a few questions from the vendor? Was it treated with a big application of fertilizer or manure? Was it stressed before bailing? These questions can help you decide if it is suitable to feed to livestock
Prussic acid is a major concern for producers who graze or rely on sorghum varieties for fodder. It is present in most sorghum, although some varieties will have lower levels.
At a chemical level within the plant, prussic acids exist as a non-poisonous chemical called Dhurrin. This chemical can react with another plant-based material known as Emulsion. Under the right conditions, these two materials will react and create Prussic Acid. It’s also known as Hydrocyanic Acid. In simplest terms this is Cyanide Poisoning!
Damage to the pant through mechanical impact, environmental stress, trampling and even insect damage results in the mixing of these materials and the release of Cyanide.
While sometimes this can evaporate from the plant, it doesn’t all disappear. It also means that further damage, such as harvesting, or grazing will result in more Cyanide being released.
The concern with Prussic Acid is its high level of toxicity. Feed Central suggests that amounts greater than 0.1 percent (1000 ppm or mg/kg) of plant dry matter is considered highly dangerous. Some levels from the Washington State University place that level even lower at 750 ppm.
The effect on animals is very similar to that of nitrate poisoning. The acid is readily absorbed into the bloodstream and it then attaches to the hemoglobin and displaces oxygen.
Since many producers look to graze or use sorghum forage there are some basic considerations to be factored into the decision making process. Remember that:
- Leaf blades normally contain higher levels than leaf sheaths or stems
- Younger (upper) leaves have more prussic acid than older leaves
- Tillers and branches (“suckers”) have the highest levels, because they are more leaf than stalk
Most sorghum should be grazed when they are more mature. Often this is over 3ft in height. As plants mature, there are more stalks than leaves in the overall plant causing prussic acid content in the plant as a whole to decrease.
With so much drought-affected crops its important to remember levels will be much higher as the pants are mostly leaves. Sorghum grown in drought may retain high levels of prussic acid, even if made into hay or silage.
My advice to all producers thinking about using or grazing sorghum is to get it tested first! Know the levels before you feed it out. There may be alternative uses to this feed.
If you do have concerns, or you want some more advice, then get in touch with me. Asking questions can save you a lot of risk and the potential of stock losses.
The summer of 2019 has been another very hot and dry season. Coming off one of the hottest years on record, with low rainfall, this summer has had a big impact on most agricultural programs.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for graziers will be access to reliable stock water. Of all the resources available to graziers, stock water is the most vital, and generally the most limiting. Water plays a role beyond ensuring survival. The quality of water offered will impact on feed intake levels and can restrict livestock production if it is outside acceptable ranges.
So how much do your animals consume? Daily consumption varies with the size of your animals, their production status. Obviously a lactating animal will require more water than a dry animal. The feed animals are consuming and weather conditions will also determine daily consumption levels.
As can be seen in this table, consumption for livestock is often higher than many people consider. Dry cattle for example will require between 50 – 70 litres a day depending on their size. However, hot conditions will see that level of consumption increase significantly.
Some research presented by Future Beef noted that rises of 10ºC (e.g. from 25ºC to 35ºC) can almost double daily consumption, particularly if there is high humidity as well. Its also important to recognize that lactating cows may have a 30% higher daily water intake than dry cows.
Water quality is a key factor in livestock intake. There are several components to water quality.
- pH will impact on consumption and influence feed intake and rumen function. Low pH (more acid) will impact on rumen acidosis levels and suppress feed intake. While higher pH levels (more alkaline) will cause rumen upset, diarrhoea and poor feed conversion.
- Salinity levels will also determine consumption levels. Salinity tests on water assess the sum of all mineral salts in water. Salinity can impact animal health as a result of their feed, temperature and humidity and the levels of salinity in the water itself
- Algae, contaminants such as mud or debris from storm run off, and contamination from faeces are all issues that will restrict intake or cause health issues.
How much water is in your dam?
Part of any plan regarding water is to know how much you have stored. Most people I speak with don’t really know how much they may have in a dam or in total, which can significantly add to the stress levels people feel.
The easiest way to work through estimating a dam’s water amount requires:
- a tape measure
- some very strong twine (like plumbers line)
- two heavy duty lead sinkers
- a dozen (or more) fishing floats.
Firstly you need to attach the sinkers to the end of the line. Then tie a slot every metre from the end of the line. Number each float with a large number suing a colour you can read easily.
Step 1: Measure two sides of your dam (this allows you to work out your surface area in square metres)
Step 2: Drag your sting across the deepest part of your dam and allow the floats to bring the line to vertical.
Step 3: Read the number of the float holding the line vertically.
Step 4: Multiply the surface area (From Step 1) by the depth you have just measured.
Step 5: To allow for the shape of your dam, multiply this figure by 0.4. This will tell you the total volume of your dam.
Step 6: To convert this total to mega-litres, divide the number by 1000.
Doing this exercise once a month will give you a fairly accurate stock take of water supply. If you calculate how many animals you have, and how much they drink each day, you will soon determine your overall levels of consumption.
Dividing this consumption by your total water supply will give you a time period for your current water supplies.
Effective plans need to have a time frame, and if your water supplies are the most limiting issue on farm, then it’s vital to have a time estimate. This estimate gives you the chance to make new plans and be proactive in your management, rather than responding or reacting when your options are much more limited.
When you do these evaluations, you will quickly determine that trucking water to stock is a task that can't be done effectively. The shear demand of water, let alone time and access may make the exercise extremely difficult. For many people trucking water is an impossibility when they realistically assess their livestock demand and the resources and time they have to meet the daily demand of livestock. Early planning will help you weigh up your options and focus you on using your limited resources as well as you possibly can.
If you need help in making plans or you require some advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. This is a key service I provide to producers and I’m happy to help where I can.
Across Australia, the impact of the extremes of climate is playing out with disastrous consequences for hundreds of families. Its been easy for some people in metropolitan NSW to think that the coastal rain and storms have been widespread. In fact the NSW DPI reveals in their latest Seasonal Update that the Combined Drought Indicator (CDI) has 99.8% of NSW experiencing drought conditions.
To break that down over a third of the state (36.8%) is classified as Intense Drought, The remaining areas of the state are considered wither in drought or drought affected. The impact of heat waves and above average temperatures, plus no rain has many producers on edge.
Of course the drought is not confined to NSW. Many parts of Queensland are now in the fifth or sixth year of drought. Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and parts of Western Australia have all recorded below average rainfall and are in drought or rapidly approaching drought conditions.
In Tasmania this has resulted in unprecedented bushfires. While many fires have impacted wilderness areas, there have been losses of homes, buildings and farming country.
Last week a huge part of North Queensland, some 20,000KM2 (almost the entire size of Kenya) was swamped by monsoon rain. This event has inundated stations, roads, railways and swept away 100’s of thousands of cattle. So many people in this region are struggling to start assessing the scale of their losses let alone even to consider rebuilding.
So what can you do to help? It’s a good question. The Australian way is to offer help and to want to look after those people doing it tough. I know that I feel that way myself.
The reality is, these events are huge. They will have an ongoing impact that will last for much longer than the news cycle or the next trend on Facebook. It extends across farms to impact businesses, towns and communities.
So any help that you would like to offer should be something that reflects the scale of the events and can be useful.
If you would like to offer or donate money, the Country Women’s Association have appeals that are directly focussed on communities. The CWA are community driven and have a long commitment of helping their community. In Qld, the QCWA Public Crisis Fund has been established to provide direct support in the event of disasters such as floods and fires. In NSW the CWA has established a fund specifically for drought aid. Alternatively the Australian Red Cross and St Vincent De Paul are charities that I have worked with and are focussed on direct assistance.
However, there are two other things you can do.
Go and visit these communities for a holiday.
When the worst of this is over, and communities start to rebuild, the money your visit brings in is essential. Small towns in the Huon Valley depend on tourism. In the Central West of NSW or the Far West, the difference your visit can make to a café, motel, and service station is just as important to a community as anything else you can do. And this is something you can do and make a difference in a real way over a longer term.
Support regional businesses.
It can be as easy as having an extra beef or lamb meal each week! However there are lots of small regional businesses that provide products and trade on line. Many of these support faming families with a little extra income. These little businesses are important to families, and communities so any support for them will have a direct benefit to people who need your help.
As communities recover over the coming months and years, don’t forget to check in on people you know. Keep visiting, keep supporting communities in these simple and practical ways. It will take a while to recover, so these are ways you can help for a longer time than just in the immediate aftermath of the disasters we are seeing right now.
This week I was talking with a colleague from the south west of the state. The topic of conversation was the recent heat waves and how they have been coping with it. One of the points they mentioned was the decision to postpone a sheep sale to avoid the worst of the heat, and then to start subsequent ones earlier in the day.
I thought that was a great move. Apparently while there was general support, there were still some people who were critical of the move! I’ve been scratching my head about that for a few days now!
All I can put that criticism down to is that there are just some people who like to criticise. However, it does expose the school of thought that does seem to prevail with some people that unless you are uncomfortable, you aren’t working hard enough!
I really struggle with that idea. I don’t think its helpful and often leads people to make decisions that can actually be dangerous. I think we tend to underestimate the impact that heat has on us. I know that I have often failed to consider the impact that heat and manual work will have on me. It's important to remember that there is a big difference between being hot, and overheating. Overheating can have some pretty serious impacts that if not addressed can lead to death.
Heat Exhaustion is something many people have experienced. It's often characterized by sings like headaches; increased thirst; dizziness and nausea. However if it's ignored it could continue to show itself with poor coordination, anxiety and poor decision making.
Heat exhaustion can be pretty debilitating and requires some immediate attention. Ideally you should lie down in some air conditioning or shade; drink plenty of water. If you are very hot, then cooling your body with a cold shower or bath can also help.
As a firefighter, we often had to cool down on protracted incidents. Not having access to showers or baths, we would take off as much clothing as we could (down to shirts and pants) and then we would often rest our forearms in buckets of water or in chairs that had arm rests which we filled with water before putting our hands and arms in the water.
There is some neat research that shows immersing your arms and hands in water and sitting in the shade cools your core temperate down much more quickly than simply resting in the shade.
If you don’t address the signs of heat exhaustion, you risk the more drastic impact of heat stroke. Heatstroke occurs when a persons temperature is greater than 40°C. As a result they may then experience confusion, convulsions, or coma.
As with the symptoms of heat exhaustion, heatstroke could see a person have:
- headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and confusion
- having flushed, hot and unusually dry skin
- being extremely thirsty
- having a dry, swollen tongue
- having a sudden rise in body temperature to more than 40°C
- being disoriented or delirious
- slurred speech
- being aggressive or behaving strangely
- convulsions, seizures or coma.
- may be sweating and skin may feel deceptively cool
- rapid pulse
Heat stroke is not to be taken lightly! If you notice any of the above signs of heatstroke in yourself or others, call 000 immediately for an ambulance. If you don’t treat heat stroke it can lead to permanent damage to vital organs or even death.
Heat can effect people very quickly. Its vital not to think that you can’t be impacted or that you can get used to it! While we think about the impact of heat, the time it takes to get over a case of exhaustion can see you recovering for a few days.
Given the risks that heat poses, I reckon any plan to postpone work until its cooler is a sensible option. There’s nothing so important it cant wait for a bit!
The search for roughage during a drought challenges many producers. Over many years, scrub and some native trees have become a ‘go to’ for producers seeking an alternative and cheap source of feed.
Many people have used scrub very successfully as part of their drought programs. However there are equally many occasions where results have been disappointing or have actually increased problems within the livestock program.
Image: ABC New England
So, just how good is scrub? I know many people will swear to the value of species such as Kurrajongs, Wilga or Native Apple. Mulga is an important species in the inland parts of the country.
However as with any feeding program, it’s never really that simple!
As can be seen in the table above, there is a fair bit of variation in the nutritional ranges of commonly fed species. Most species have an energy range of 7.5 MJ / Kg to 10.5MJ /kg. However in general the average is around 8.5MJ. In general its fair to say that the best-case scenario for scrub is that it is the equivalent of average quality hay. At these levels you really only expect scrub to provide maintenance levels of energy, provided your animals can eat enough each day!
The limitation for many scrub feeds is the level of Crude Protein (CP%). Many of the feeds that have been tested only provide enough CP to meet the maintenance requirements for dry animals. In practice this really means that if you are feeding to animals that are growing, pregnant or lactating, you will have to use a suitable protein supplement to meet these animals daily needs.
Not all stock will take to scrub. And not all scrub is as palatable as you might expect. It is important to use some local knowledge when looking at including scrub in your rations.
If you do start to use scrub, there are a few things to remember. Its important to try to use scrub that has a fair bit of leaf. Increasing twigs and small branches reduces animals overall intake of energy and protein. It also leads to risks of rumen impaction.
When working with producers who have had scrub in their programs, I’ve seen some useful tips. To educate your stock to scrub, start with small amounts close to watering points and stock camps. If needed you can spray a water molasses mix (2 parts molasses to 1 part water) onto the scrub.
When the stock recognize the sound of the saw, you should move away from these area and use trees and stands furthest from water. That way you can preserve the trees closer to water sources for when its hotter or if animals are weaker and won’t browse as far.
Impaction can be a real issue, particularly if there is not enough leaf material in the diet. Twigs can be an issue. Feeding molasses in troughs can help reduce this risk. Its also worth providing a supplement of ground limestone in the molasses mix at 1.5%. This will help maintain animals intakes of calcium.
Signs such as depressed appetite, no cud chewing or discomfort, often characterize impaction. You might notice animals groaning or even kicking their bellies.
Providing a protein supplement can also reduce the risk of impaction. A supplement will help stimulate rumen function and ensure material is digested more effectively. Suitable choices could be molasses and cottonseed meal (fortified molasses mix) or white cottonseed.
If you are cutting scrub, remember if you don’t cut enough, animals will be forced to eat more twigs and small branches. This can also increase the risk of impaction.
The final important consideration when feeding scrub is access to sufficient water. Stock must be able to access enough water each day. Reduced water intake can rapidly increase the risk of impaction, so water sources need to be clean as well as reliable.
Finally a couple of tips. Try to use only one species at a time. Otherwise stock might waste feed by choosing one species over the other. In hot weather you might have to feed more frequently than a typical 2-3 day program. Daily cutting might help avoid leaf loss as scrub dries out in the heat and becomes inaccessible to stock.
It is important to consider the way you cut and lop scrub. For regrowth its essential that you try not to cut too heavily, particularly preserving the trunk and major braches. Some foliage should be left to help the tree recover, ideally above stock browsing height. You should also really only lop a tree once a season to allow it to recover, although depending on the length of the drought, this period may be much longer.
Your own safety is vital! Climbing trees and using chainsaws are dangerous undertakings. When you are hot, tired or stressed the risk of injury is much greater. So consider ways to be safe. Can you do it early when its cool and you are not tired? Can you access a cheery picker or other method that means you don’t need to climb trees.
Keep thinking is there a SAFER way!
Finally after a few months, stock will lose their appetite for scrub. So I reckon it is important that your plan takes this into account. If you don’t know what the next phases might be, then why don’t you get in touch with me and we can work a plan out together.
Unfortunately cost isn’t actually an indicator of the feed value!
Feed value is actually determined by levels of energy; crude protein; digestibility, fibre and the amount of moisture contained in the feed. All these components contribute to the usefulness a particular feed has in meeting animals nutritional needs as well as impacting on the amount the animal can physically consume each day.
It’s actually pretty difficult to tell any of these things from a visual inspection. And while looking at a hay, or silage you might be able to have a guess it the digestibility of the plant when it was cut and the general moisture content, its only ever going to be a guess.
Over the past few months, many people have been full feeding their animals as the drought restricts paddock feed. A lot of these rations have been well planned and meet the various needs of the stock. However there are still plenty of rations put together on the basis of guess work! And by guessing some classes of stock are being underfed.
Obtaining a feed test is the most reliable way to determine the value of a feed. Its also is essential if you want to develop a ration that actually meets the needs of your stock.
Feed tests kits can be obtained through private companies or state departments of agriculture. Pretty much any feed can be tested. The kits will provide instructions regarding the amount you nee to collect to send away.
There are various levels of testing that you can request. For most situations, a standard evaluation is enough to give you the information that will help you know how useful your feed really is.
The things I look for include the following key components:
DRY MATTER (DM): All feeds contain some amount of moisture. This moisture has no nutritional value. When you prepare a ration, you need to allow for the water in the feed, and in many cases you will actually have to increase the physical or ‘as fed’ amount per animal to account for the moisture. If you don’t, your rations may end up being lower than what your stock need each day. Over a period of time, this can lead to significant underfeeding!
DRY MATTER DIGESTIBILITY: This explains as a percentage, how much of a feed your animals will be able to digest. Digestibility and energy are positively related, so having high levels of digestibility not only means your animals can use more of a feed, it also means that the energy levels of the feed are at a level that will meet their needs.
DRY ORGANIC MATTER DIGESTIBILITY: A further measure of digestibility is made on the organic matter of the feed. It is expressed as a percentage and again the higher the percentage, the higher value of the feed for animal production.
CRUDE PROTEIN: Crude Protein is expressed as a % of the Dry Matter. Crude Protein is essential for rumen function. Low levels will reduce the ability of a rumen population to effectively use a feed. For maintenance cattle require Crude Protein to be a minimum of 8%. Lower values may mean that you will need to add a protein source to your ration.
FIBRE: Fibre is an important part of a diet. Low levels of fibre can lead to digestive upsets. More commonly, in rations I’ve seen recently, fibre is often very high. High fibre not only lowers digestibility (and energy) but it will also reduce the amount of feed an animal will actually eat.
Fibre is measured by either; Acid Detergent Fibre (ADF) or Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF). Acid Detergent Fibre (ADF) is a measurement of cellulose and lignin while
Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF)is a measurement of hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin. Its possible to calculate how much of a feedstuff will be consumed by an animal by dividing 120 by the NDF.
Lower NDF figures will see your animals eat more, and so potentially achieve their needs more easily each day.
METABOLISABLE ENERGY (ME): The energy that an animal can actually use in its daily needs is refereed to as Metabolisable Energy (ME). It is expressed as Megajoules (MJ ME / kg of Dry matter). To maintain cattle the ME of a feed must be at least 8MJ. If a feed is below this level, you will need to add an energy source in order to achieve your stock requirements.
Knowing the levels of nutrient in your feed places you in a pretty powerful position! This knowledge will determine if the feed is suitable for the stock you are planning on feeding.
It will also help you determine the amount you need to feed. This information not only allows you to manage your animals more effectively.
It also means you will be using your feed more efficiently and getting the best return on the money you’ve spent to purchase it and feed it out!
Don't forget, you don't have to work these things out on your own. I'm always available to assist you with your feed tests, developing your rations or helping plan your strategies. If you want a hand, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me!
Feeding livestock has become the primary task for many producers across eastern states. As the drought continues to extend across the country, some producers have been feeding stock for over eight or nine months.
In the past few weeks, I have been travelling across Central and Northern NSW talking to producers, and discussing their feeding programs. As part of these visits and discussions I am seeing a developing trend that is concerning.
Quite simply most rations are well below the daily requirements for the livestock people are choosing to feed.
The results of underfeeding have varied from significant weight loss, poor calf and lamb growth and unfortunately in some cases, weight loss has been so severe animals have had to be euthanized.
There are two issues around feeding that have been contributing to this situation. The first is the choice of ration ingredients. And the second is quite simply the physical amount offered to stock. Some people have wildly overestimated the amount of feed they are actually providing and in doing so have created problems in their program.
I wanted to offer a few comments that are important to consider when determining how much you should feed.
CLASS OF STOCK
The stage of production determines how much feed your animals need to eat each day. A dry cow will require lower amounts of physical feed, than a lactating cow needs. At the same time an animal with higher production demands, like lactation or joining not only needs more feed, that feed must have higher levels of energy and crude protein.
Quite simply, some feeds are not of good enough quality to meet your animal’s requirements. And when these feeds fail to meet those levels, your animals will lose weight. In many cases, if weight loss is prolonged production losses are not restricted to lower milk yields or weight loss. Over a longer period animals may die.
Intake levels do vary significantly each day, not only as a result of the production status of your animals. It is possible to calculate intake based on a percentage of body weight for each production class, it’s not the only factor to consider.
The amount of fibre in a feedstuff will also determine intake. If fibre content is too low, it can lead to rumen upset and low intake. High fibre levels restrict the voluntary intake of animals. Quite simply, they can’t eat enough each day.
It’s equally important to recognize that some feeds have fibre levels that are too high for pregnant cows but would be acceptable for dry animals. The reason has to do with bulk fill and the internal capacity of a cow to consume and digest the feed while carrying a calf as well!
The other important factor is the moisture content of feed. All feeds have some moisture. However as moisture has no nutritional value, the amount you actually feed each day needs to reflect the water contained in that feed.
In simplest terms, the higher moisture content of a feed, the more you will physically need to supply to your animals each day.
HOW MUCH ARE YOU FEEDING?
Perhaps one of the biggest limitations to livestock intake is the amount of feed that is actually fed out!
I’ve asked a lot of people, how much are they feeding. The range of answers is quite surprising. Most are based on a guess, or a rough idea. Very few people have actually taken the time to weight out how much they need to feed.
The risk with this approach, besides underfeeding, is that if you need to add other ingredients to your ration, such as limestone or bentonite, your additions will be out. So your ration may be even less effective than you expected, and your cattle’s daily needs continue to be compromised.
At the very least, weigh your rations and make sure you are physically providing enough for daily intake. Check the value of the feed, and if you’re not sure get a feed test done. And if you are still not sure, give me a ring and I’ll come and help you put the rations in place for your stock.
NSW is now categorized as 100% drought affected. As the state emerges from winter and looks towards a hotter drier spring and summer, there are many producers considering what options they have available.
For many the decisions include choosing to continue destocking, with the goal of retaining a core group to focus on. Other producers have spoken to me about their plans to keep feeding and maintain numbers. For a large portion of people the decision is a mix of selling and feeding.
None of these decisions are easy. Having spent close on the last 12 months advising producers on strategies, I know how hard choices can be. However, regardless of the difficulty, you must make decisions, and build a plan to help manage the direction you want to take.
Perhaps the hardest part of this process has been for producers who are choosing to feed, and have started to draw on uncommon feeds to support their herds.
By uncommon feeds, I mean choosing options outside of the usual products that include grains, hay, silage, plant based meals and prepared products like pellets.
As these feeds become more difficult to source, or more expensive to source, producers have looked to alternatives. In the past few weeks I’ve spoken to producers feeding products that have included;
Scrub cut on farm
I’m sure there are plenty of other things being fed to cattle and sheep. These are just the ones I’ve come across lately.
While these options can be useful feeds, its essential you use them after considering the risks associated with these feeds. Not all of these feeds are as useful or as good as they might be made out to be.
The important things you must consider are:
Residues: Chemical residues are one of the great risks in feeding unusual feeds. Many products from the horticultural sector may have been treated with chemicals for pest control or grown in soil that has a chemical risk. These products might be fine for use on horticultural products, but in meat these same chemicals may be prohibited.
You need to consider if there is a risk with products that may have been treated or grown in soil. Products like potatoes, pumpkins, and sugar cane tops can contain soil which may lead to a residue issue. So its important to ask a few questions about the background of the product before you feed it to stock.
Dry Matter: All products contain some water. However the amount of water will vary considerably. If a product is 50% Dry Matter (DM) that means half its actual weight is made up of water.
The implications are that in transporting that feed, half the weight in the load is water, so you wont get as much as you were expecting to be delivered!
Secondly it means that the amount you actually feed out will be twice the amount of product. In simple terms, if your co requires 10kg/ DM/ day you would need to feed 20kg of feed to meet those requirements.
Often variations in Dry Matter mean ration amounts are not meeting livestock requirements and causing nutritional issues for stock.
Variable Feed Quality: In a drought we are really aiming to provide the energy (Mega Joules – MJ) that animals require for their daily intake. This needs to be balanced with an appropriate level of Crude Protein (CP%) for their production needs. In addition the amount of fibre in the feed will impact both on energy levels and the amount an animal can physically eat each day.
Some unusual feeds can be reasonable in their energy levels, but very low in protein. Others may have reasonable levels of protein but it is unavailable to the animal as the protein is tied up in tannins within the feed.
For many people these unusual feeds help keep their program in place. There’s noting wrong in using these feeds.
However you need to use them in the full knowledge of the risks they may have.
If you are going to use them, there are some things you must absolutely do. These are:
Request a Commodity Vendor Declaration. The Commodity Vendor Declaration or (CVD) outlines the product source, the chemicals it may have been treated with and its suitability for feeding to livestock in regards to exposure to restricted animal materials (RAM).
If you cannot obtain a CVD you must record the feed stuff, where it came from, the amount, the date your received it, when you started feeding it and to what stock you fed it to. This is all part of the standard records required for your LPA accreditation anyway. I also tell my clients to keep copies of the invoice and supplier details.
Get a Feed Test Done: A feed test will tell you the quality of the feed you are intending to use. If it has sufficient energy, protein and fibre. The results of a test will help you decide if it is product that can be fed on its own, or if it requires something else blended to balance the ration for your stock.
Either way, once you know, you can then decide how best to use it.
There are other practical considerations. For example, feeding scrub is a commonly used source of roughage. However you need to consider how you will feed it. Don’t forget your own safety in cutting scrub! We are not all NINJA warriors able to leap around trees lopping limbs! So you need to be realistic as well.
Other products sue to their bulky nature, water content or size may pose limitations to how much your animals can physically eat, and therefore reduce the usefulness of the feed source.
If you are thinking of going down the path of using unusual feeds, then do some research. Consider the risks and evaluate the true value of the feed and its usefulness to your program. Remember one size doesn’t fit all! If you do want to talk through your options, please feel free to get in touch
I’ve been working as an extension officer for both the NSW DPI and privately for almost a quarter of a century. I actually didn’t think it has been such a long time. However one of the benefits, if you can call it that, is I’ve seen and worked with producers through quite a few droughts.
Unlike other natural disasters that occur rapidly, drought is an insidious creeping event. And in my experience, droughts are a different type of disaster. Each drought impacts people in different ways and at different rates.
The onset of drought is one thing. How individuals respond to the onset will often determine how rapidly the drought has an impact on them.
To be fair, its important to remember that not all places, businesses and locations are the same. So some locations enter drought more quickly because of the combination of regional weather, soil, topography and time since the last drought.
As an advisor, I have worked with many producers to prepare for droughts. We have strategies and plans. There are business models we have developed to balance stocking rates with country. We have diversified and implemented development strategies to store feed and fodder and maintain or capture run off.
But there comes a point where even as well planned as you would hope to be, the drought catches up. And when that happens the focus isn’t on preparation, its on response and survival.
Almost all of my work now is in response and survival.
My difficulty is not response and survival, although that is a challenge. I’m actually struggling to deal more with the people who like to play the “I told you so” game.
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen three separate responses to drought that have left me a little dismayed. The first was from a corporate manager of a farm portfolio I consult to. Over the past 8 months the portfolio has responded with a strategy and with plans that have worked really well.
But like many other producers, this drought has gone beyond all forecasts and expectations. So now the plans need to be redrawn. And in the corporate world, despite regular briefings, the response I’ve had was that the drought can’t be blamed for poor farm performance this year and that the feed prices being paid should have been forecast.
Its taken the front page of the Sunday Telegraph to finally convince the corporation to appreciate the drought isn’t being made up.
At them same time I saw feedback from a farm business manager criticizing producers and the media for demanding a better response from the state government. This individual stated farming is a business and that this drought should be managed by businesses and not bailed out by taxes.
My final straw came this week. A Facebook post I shared was used by an individual to criticize producer’s drought strategies. My post, which was written to encourage producers to ask for help, to look for external input and to take care of themselves used an old image I had of cows being fed hay. Despite not knowing who the producer was, where it was taken or why the cows were being fed, the comments launched into a debate about stocking rates and drought preparedness.
I’ve been pretty shocked to have seen and experienced now this range of criticism and to a great extent lack of understanding about where things are now at for most producers.
The trouble is, these experiences are happening to lots of producers. So I wanted to share a response with you, and to remind you of a few things:
- Your plans were based on the advice, information and experiences you had access to.
- You’ve made responsible choices and decided to follow a plan
- You are a business person who has made choices appropriate to your position, skills and attitude to risk
The drought we are all facing is now unprecedented. So now the next steps are to re-evaluate and re-plan. Your plans will all be different and individual.
Finally I think sharing your stories are important. Don’t forget to share how you prepared for this, what you did to manage and minimize the impact. Awareness is the first step in understanding. And for people not living in drought, or who are quick to criticize, maybe its just they aren’t aware.
As I wrote at the start, this drought has impacted people in different ways and at different times. So don’t let the comments of the “I told you so” brigade impact on you. Instead reflect on what you’ve done and share what you will do.
Don’t forget to keep looking after yourself and your family. Drop over and see the neighbors. And try and take a little break away. Even a weekend away can be a huge boost. Lastly don’t judge. We are all doing this one together.
- Judging steers in a show ring
- Know the risks of Nitrate & Prussic Acid in your feed
- How long will your stock water last?
- How Can You Help Our Rural Communities?
- Think safe in the heat!
- Using Scrub as a Livestock Feed
- Understanding your feed test results
- Are you feeding enough?
- Have you really considered what you are feeding?
- Dont rush to judge during this drought
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