Rayner Reckons

Sep 21

Are you feeding enough?

Posted on Friday, September 21, 2018

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

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.

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