Rayner Reckons

Jul 17

Prepare for the cold fronts!

Posted on Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The impact of cold weather on your livestock isn’t to be underestimated.  So far this July we have already seen several strong cold fronts sweep across southern and eastern Australia.  These fronts have been accompanied by strong winds, snow and sleet and then days of intense frosts.  

These events have a big impact on your livestock.  The demand to stay warm requires extra energy.  At present the intense drought conditions mean many livestock are low in body condition and surviving on minimal rations.  The combination of low body reserves and reduced energy intake means your stock is less able to cope with the cold, and at greater risk of dying. 

How does cold affect your cattle?

We often assume cattle can cope with cold conditions more easily than other species like sheep.  However, cattle can be just as impacted by the cold as any other species.  As a warm-blooded animal, cattle have a normal temperature of 380C. Under most circumstances cattle can cope with some temperature fluctuations without needing to expend too much extra energy.  As the season changes they grow thicker coats, and in periods of cold weather they change their grazing patterns to find shelter.  

However this behaviour can only go so far.  If temperatures fall to what is known as the ‘lower critical temperature” your cattle will start to be cold stressed.  To cope they start to require more energy to stay warm.  And in this situation they need to have more energy in their diets. 

Some research by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture in Canada identified the differing levels of lower critical temperature, depending on cattle coat thickness.  These levels do vary depending on coat thickness.

Coat Description 

Lower Critical Temperature

°C

Summer coat or wet coat

15

Autumn coat 

7

Winter coat 

0

Heavy winter coat 

-8

These temperatures don’t take into account the impact of wind speed.  Wind has the biggest impact on the lower critical temperature.  This can be seen below

Looking at the table, if the wind was only 8km /hour on a 40c Day, the actual air temperature is really 10C.  

This is close to the Lower Critical Level for cattle with a dry winter coat.  But a wet coat after rain means your animals are at real risk of cold stress.

Cold and wet conditions have a massive impact on sheep programs.  At greatest risk are lambs that are often unable to cope with the impact of cold weather.  Rain and moisture significantly increases the risk of mortality.  As with cattle, sheep manage to cope to some degree with cold by changing behaviour and seeking shelter.  They also have a fleece that will offer some protection.  

However its important not to overestimate how effective a fleece may be.  The table below highlights the Lower Critical Temperatures of Sheep 

  

Lower Critical Temperature (ºC) 

5-mm fleece (fixed) 

  

    Fasting 

31 

    Maintenance 

25 

    Full-fed 

18 

Maintenance 

  

    1-mm fleece 

28 

    10-mm fleece 

22 

    50-mm fleece 

    100-mm fleece 

-3

As with cattle, when wind speed increases, the impact on Lower Critical Temperature is much greater. And for lambs with no fleece and a large surface area and low body mass, their energy loss is very high.  

Managing the Risk

In practical terms it's impossible to avoid cold fronts.  However we can manage for them.  The options that are available to help your stock cope with cold conditions include:

 

  • Increasing rations ahead of the cold front:  Hay is a very good option to increase a ration.  It is more slowly digested and the process of digestion helps stock stay warmer as well as getting more energy.  However it’s no good just offering a bit!  You need to increase your rations by 10 – 20%.  If your stock are light in condition or slick coated cattle I’d definitely be increasing to 20% ahead of and during the cold period.

 

  • Provide shelter.  Breaking the wind speed up can have a dramatic effect on improving conditions for your stock.  Moving them to sheltered paddocks that have trees and shrubs that break up the wind will be vital.  There are plenty of well proven strategies and studies that show the role shelter has in livestock survival

 

  • Longer term, consider developing shelterbelts and wind breaks to moderate the wind across the farm.  You certainly can’t grow shelter over night, so in the short term consider what other options you have to shelter your stock.

Cold fronts often only last for a few days, and with adequate warning you can prepare your stock to cope with the challenge.  It is important to make your plans happen when the fronts are forecast.  Don’t leave it to the day of the windy and snow to start doing something.  Often moving stock in those conditions makes it worse not better!  Pre preparation is everything to give your stock a chance!

Jul 04

Are you properly prepared to buy a new bull?

Posted on Thursday, July 04, 2019

Purchasing new bulls for a program is a significant event for any producer. While many people consider the immediate cost of the bull to be the most pressing consideration, there is much more to consider than his actual cost!  A bull will make a contribution to a herd that will extend for up to 15 years. So the lifetime cost of that bull in a herd is much greater than what you may pay at auction.

I spend a lot of time with producers looking at bulls before sales.  I’m often conscious that a large number of people I chat to have only a general idea of the characteristics of the bull that they want. As I wrote earlier, the question “what do I think of this bull?” is a hard one to answer. As we approach the spring bull selling season I’ve prepared a few suggestions to help producers prepare ahead of their next bull purchase.
  1. Know what you want to achieve in your herd
A new bull should be the source of genetics to help move your herd closer to your goals.  So you need to be very clear on what you want to achieve.  I’d normally start by considering:
  • Your current market – are your steers and heifers meeting the weight, fat and eating quality specifications?
  • Your environment – are your cows the size that suits your pasture growth patterns throughout the year
  • Is your herd fertility as high as it can be? Are your cows going into calf early, delivering calves easily and rearing those calves to weaning?  
  • Are there traits you would like to improve further or correct with genetics?
These are four key questions you should be focusing on as part of your business planning anyway.  In terms of seeking a new bull, the answers to these questions will give you a focus on the traits you should be seeking. It’s equally important not to rush this process!  You really need to take some time and review the market feedback you have, your fertility data and your paddock notes to see why you have been culling certain females from the herd.

2.  Search for bulls well before the sale

If you have identified the traits of bulls that you want bring into your herd, you should start doing some preliminary searching.  There are various ways to do this.  
  • Use breed websites to search for bulls with specific EBVs that meet you criteria.  This can be useful, however it may mean you need to do some additional searching to find the bulls you have identified with a particular breeder. 
  • I use on line sale catalogues available through the breed websites.  This option will bring up the bulls listed at your chosen breeders sale.  The easiest way to find the bulls that suit your criteria is to click on the option that asks if you would like to link to Breed Object. This will bring up the bulls with their EBVs and Index values, which makes searching much easier.
3.  Use the Indexes
Indexes were developed to help make selection easier in a couple of ways. The first is to remember that Indexes are developed to reflect both the short-term profit that would come from using a bull through his actual progeny.  While longer term profit is the influence his daughter have on a herd. The Indexes combine the animals EBVs for their impact on the traits that impact on a specific production and market system. 
I pe
rsonally tend to find the Index that best suits a program and look at the top 5 bulls in the catalogue.  If you need to adjust a trait for a reason, one that you have identified earlier, you can then go and fine tune your selection on specific EBVs.


4.  Talk to the Breeder Breeders have an interest in helping their clients. However you also need to make sure that the breeder you are approaching has the same focus or direction you have. Ultimately you have to be confident you are buying bulls from an operation that has the same focus and scrutiny you have for your own herd.  You need to do this well in advance of a sale.  Trying to make that decision on sale day is never a good idea!

5.  Have a physical checklist for sale day

I’ve been to hundreds of bull sales.  I know that some people find them exciting and a great day out. Some people find them over whelming and get swamped by the event. You need to go to a sale with plenty of time and a mission.  In short you need to: 
  • Arrive early and spend as much time as you need looking at your chosen bulls.  Don’t worry about the other bulls in the pen, or what other people like or don’t like! Your herd is your concern and the bulls you’ve identified are the ones that meet your objectives.
  • Look at those bulls and have a checklist.  Are the bulls structurally sound?  Do they reflect your maturity pattern?  What is their temperament like?  Do they have the muscle pattern you need?  
Ultimately you need to use your research and stick to the chosen selection. These bulls are those that fit your needs.  Don’t agonise about who is better in one trait but not another.  If they are all bulls that are in your specifications, rank them in preference, but then treat them the same!  Then in the pens use your observations to chose the best on the physical traits that you want.   If you do that you’ll have a preference list.  These and only these are the bulls you need to bid on! 

If you do this properly you’ll have time to enjoy the steak sandwich and the social catch up!  You’ll also find that when you ask me ‘what do I think of this bull?” I’ll be able to have a much more useful conversation with you!

Jun 23

What do I think of this bull?

Posted on Sunday, June 23, 2019

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is the simple “what do you think of this bull?”  For such a simple question, there isn’t a simple answer I can give.  Occasionally I am tempted to say “not much” but if I am stalling for time I might fall back on the standard “I haven’t really thought about him yet”.  Either way, the question is one that is a challenge and requires a little time to consider a proper response.

 

My greatest challenge with this question is the context it’s being asked within.  Selecting bulls is a key task for any breeding program.  The decision made to use a bull is the start of a process that will effect up to three generations of cattle and play put over 15 years.  



In that context,  decisions around bulls need a lot more time than a quick “what do you think of him”.

 

Ultimately I try to get the person asking me that question to share more about what they are trying to achieve at home.  In simple terms, what are they breeding for?  What are the traits that matter to them.  Are there issues in the cow herd they want to focus on.  Is there an issue with suitability to their markets or the environment.  


These are all the basics of a breeding objective.  If you know that, you can start to determine if the bull is suited to their program or not.

 

The other challenge is when a producer comes up to ask what do I think of a few bulls, brandishing the raw data that is provided on the bulls.  I have to be honest and respond that I need a lot more information before I give a comparison.  Quite simply I don’t find raw data all that helpful, except to provide me with a weight of each animal on the day.  Other than that, to me it doesn’t offer anything terribly helpful in determining how a bull will fit into a programs objectives.

 

It’s very easy to compare bulls for visual traits.  In fact I think that’s essential.  So I am very happy to assess the muscle patterns, structure and gait of a bull as he walks around the pen.  I can look at his maturity pattern and make some comparisons with his sale mates. 


And I can see what his individual temperament is like as I follow him around assessing his physical attributes. But, what I cant see and compare, is the genetic potential those bulls offer without accurate data.

 

Raw data that is often provided at bull sales shouldn’t be seen as an insight into the potential of the bull.  With these supplementary sheets it's important to remember that these sheets record what the bull as an individual has done to that point in time. 


So when you look at that data, or when I have it shown to me, its important to acknowledge the role that nutrition and the pedigrees have in determining a particular bulls phenotype, these are not the only two areas to consider.

 

There are many additional influences, ranging from the bulls age; the age of its dam; was the bull a single calf or a twin or if it was produced as a result of ET? 


These are all non genetic influences on the bull that impact over and above nutrition and genetics.  And when you are standing in a paddock looking at those bulls, it’s very difficult to know what these additional influences are or how to account for them in a selection decision.

 

My greatest concern is that often producers end up selecting on differences that are a result of these multiple factors, rather than for the genetic differences in animals.  Selection on raw data is further complicated by the heritability of individual traits. Highly heritable traits such as coat color can be an easy selection decision, as these traits can be easily passed on to progeny.

 

However, as a trait becomes less heritable it is harder to see these differences reflected on the basis of raw data alone.  Producers attempting to manipulate traits to meet breeding objectives in areas such as female fertility have a harder job to select for improvement when they are reliant on raw data and visual observation.  Its not an impossible task, however it is a much more difficult, and drawn out process over several generations.

 

As if this isn’t difficult enough, there’s something else to remember! That’s the relationship between the trait that has been recorded and the traits that are the focus of particular breeding decisions?  

 

Not all traits follow linear progressions.  A good example is scanned data for EMA.  The size of EMA at a particular point in time may not be reflective of increased muscularity, but rather a result of growth rate to that point in time.  A larger EMA may be more reflective of the growth and weight of the animal when it was scanned. 

 

It really concerns me when producers place all their emphasis on the raw data of animals as the basis for their selection decisions.  Without knowing the cumulative impact of the environment, feed, and other non-genetic factors, bulls are being selected more on reflection of the year’s circumstances, rather than on their genetic capability.  This often works in a counterproductive manner to selection pressure placed on the breeding group at home.

 

So if you are choosing bulls, you need to make this a project and allow yourself some time to make decisions based on research and preparation, rather than a comparison of animals on the day of the sale! There is tremendous value in spending time considering what you want as an objective for your herd, and looking at a range of bulls to help achieve that goal.

 

Breedplan figures and the search tools in Breedplan can help you find the bulls that could suit your program.  Then you can go and look at them and see if they physically have structure, the muscularity and temperament to suit your program. 

 

If you do that then when you ask me what do I think of these bulls, I’ll be able to have a focused and hopefully more helpful discussion with you!

Jun 14

Selection to Increase Saleable Meat Yield

Posted on Friday, June 14, 2019

As cattle producers, we are focused on the production of red meat that can be used to feed people.  I’m not sure that many people really know just how much red meat comes from their cattle. I think it is an important trait to consider and work on improving.  After all increasing red meat yield per animal is a more efficient way to use your feed resources and be more profitable in the long term.

 

When considering Red Meat Yield, its important not to be confused with Dressing Percentage.  Dressing percentage is commonly talked about by people and confused with yield.  In simplest terms, Dressing Percentage is simply the carcass weight of an animal as a percentage of its live-weight.

 

Dressing Percentage is a useful tool to measure and to understand, particularly for producers who are looking to market cattle direct to abattoirs. Knowing how your animal will dress and so fit a payment grid can make a big difference in receiving the grid price or suffering a discount for being over or under the weights.

 

It is important to remember that Dressing Percentage is influenced by factors associated with an animals live-weight.  In particular the length of time off feed and water.  A simple rule to remember is that as live-weight decreases, Dressing Percentage will increase.  Other factors that can have an impact include pregnancy status (cows and heifers) as well as grain or grass finishing programs.  

 

So Dressing Percentage is something that has to be considered and managed in order to achieve optimum returns when livestock are sold over a grid.  However focusing on the yield of red meat should be a major focus for producers.  

 

In basic terms yield is generally described as Saleable Meat Yield (SMY).  It is defined as the proportion of the carcase that can be processed and sold to the consumer. This includes all the bone-in or boneless cuts that we commonly see at retail level, plus manufacturing meat that has been trimmed to a desired fat coverage or level.

 

The level of Saleable Meat Yield (SMY) can vary dramatically among animals.  A real issue for processors or butchers is this variation will impact the efficiency of processing or retailing.  It basically costs the same to process a carcase into its primal and retail cuts. 


Lower yields either as a result of less muscle or over fatness, quickly become financial issues for that portion of the supply chain.  In the longer term it reflects back on the producer who may find their lower yielding cattle are purchased for lower prices or avoided all together.

 

As producers the challenge is to increase the amount of saleable red meat each animal produces.  There most effective methods are to focus on meeting specifications for fatness.  Over fat animals require more trimming, and this impacts on the amount of product for sale after processing.  

 

The second and major way is to focus on selection for muscle volume within the herd.  This can be done using both EBV’s that address meat yield, and to visually select animals for their muscle score.  

 

Over many years, NSW DPI has researched the impact muscle score has on saleable meat yield.  One of the key findings from this research showed that selection for muscle score was a skill that could be used in all beef herds.   


More importantly the research highlighted that for each increase in muscle score at the same live weight and fat depth, dressing percentage increased by 1.7%. 

Saleable meat yield as a percentage, increased by 1.5 to 1.7 % and lean meat yield (denuded of fatness) increased by over 2%. In lightweight steers, this equated to 10–15% increase in value.


 

The research looked at this over three steers that were all the same live-weight and fatness.  The additional increase in yield of saleable meat through increased muscling was a significant contributor to the value of those animals to both producers and retailers. 

 

In the last few weeks I’ve been working through these concepts with several producers to improve their herd’s suitability to several emerging markets.  We have also been looking at the breakdown of a beef carcase and the proportion of red meat from each primal cut.  Selection for muscle has a positive impact on increase the amount produced as well as improving the shape and appearance of these muscles when they are processed into retail cuts.

May 13

Judging steers in a show ring

Posted on Monday, May 13, 2019

Preparing and showing steers is perhaps the most common of all livestock showing in Australia. I know for many people steer competitions are the starting point in their livestock career. In my own case, showing steers with my school was an integral part of my exposure to the broader industry.

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.

The traits that matter

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. 

If you don’t direct cattle into the appropriate market then not only do you receive a lower payment, you have also lost money and time growing extra weight that isn’t being financially recognised at sale. So effectively you are costing yourself more money.

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. 

Again the consideration is not just the discounting that occurs for over fatness, but the cost and time spent to lay down this fatness that is then wasted.

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.

Mar 19

Know the risks of Nitrate & Prussic Acid in your feed

Posted on Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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

 

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.

Mar 01

How long will your stock water last?

Posted on Friday, March 01, 2019

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.

If you are concerned about the quality of the water your stock are accessing you can obtain water test kits from your State DPI or Agriculture Departments. (NSW DPI) (Western Australia) 

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.

Feb 12

How Can You Help Our Rural Communities?

Posted on Tuesday, February 12, 2019

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 20,000KM(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.

Feb 01

Think safe in the heat!

Posted on Friday, February 01, 2019

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!

Jan 17

Using Scrub as a Livestock Feed

Posted on Thursday, January 17, 2019

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.



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